It was bound to happen at some point. Aside from being a major health crisis, the Coronavirus has been heavily predicted to do damage to movie-going. When a viral infection is raging, the thought of sitting in a dark room surrounded by people in close proximity may not be the most appealing scenario. Up until now, many box-office prognosticators have focused on the effects in China (the originator of the virus). Indeed, there was no way that No Time do Die was opening there, but now, MGM have made the decision to delay the latest 007 entry by seven months, moving it to November instead of their allotted 2nd April release.
It’s an unprecedented and staggering move. Tickets were already on sale, all the trailers had been released, and the theme by Billie Eilish had done the rounds, drumming up the hype for the latest entry. Many have now drawn links between the delay and calls on Twitter from Bond fan accounts to postpone the movie but in truth, the motivation is purely economic. Box office returns are seriously threatened by Coronavirus, and April is looking to be a time when its effects have not fully subsided. Heck, seeing how quickly it’s escalating, the original release date could coincide with the epidemic’s peak, almost making Bond DOA.
I do worry how No Time to Die is going to be able to re-start its advertising campaign later on in the year without causing jarring whiplash. We’ve seen the posters, and know the cast, so pre-release marketing may become more tiresome than exciting. But they can’t also go without an advertising strategy. It will possibly be a no-win situation, damned if you do and damned if you don’t. On the other hand, it is also quite possible that with skilful rhetoric, the film could be framed as even more of an event. There could be a sense that fans will finally be able to see it after an excruciating wait, and it could drive swarms of movie-goers to the box office.
I see No Time to Die being successful no matter what, but I can’t help but feel like it could either over-perform or significantly disappoint due to this change. As time goes on, this may become a trend should the epidemic continue. Disney’s Mulan could be in serious trouble without a Chinese release, as could Fast and Furious 9, which relies on the Middle Kingdom to have any chance of getting over the billion dollar mark.
I think the Coronavirus will be seen as having a major short term effect on the movie industry. It won’t change how we watch (it will probably be mostly gone within the next few months), but 2020’s box office will have an asterisk in the future. It will be the year that Hollywood took a hit due to the epidemic and many films and film-goers were disrupted as a result.