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The Latest Box Office Horror Show? A Total Collapse of Movie Ticket Sales Due To COVID-19

Regal Cinemas in downtown Los Angeles on March 18th, 2020. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)
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Before the coronavirus pandemic, scary films were doing pretty well at the box office. But with movie theaters nationwide locking their doors, the real horror story playing at the multiplex is the total collapse of ticket sales.

Total returns for the first quarter of 2020 were down 25% compared to the first three months a year ago, a decline of about $610 million. If you look just at the month of March, when most movie chains and independent theaters started closing, revenue was down 74% from last March, according to Comscore, which tracks theatrical admissions.

Adam Aron, the head of the nation’s biggest chain, AMC Entertainment, said this week he hoped some of his screens could re-open by mid-June. But even under that optimistic scenario, there won’t be a lot of new movies to show.

Most of the major studios have postponed the release dates of their presumptive 2020 blockbusters, including “Black Widow,” “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Mulan,” “F9,” “A Quiet Place Part 2” and the James Bond sequel “No Time to Die.”

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What’s more, movie fans cooped up in their homes have been flocking to streaming and video-on-demand sites. Viewing hours on such platforms surged 25% over the last two weeks, according to research firm Conviva. And those patrons might not be inclined to return to theaters even months down the road.

John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theatre Owners trade group, has said that exhibitors both large and small face the risk of bankruptcy. The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that lenders to AMC, which has furloughed almost all of its 26,000 employees, have begun to look for ways to restructure the chain’s $4.9 billion in debt.