Box office ticket sales hit 20-year low in North America

Ticket sales in North American cinemas have plunged to their lowest levels in at least 20 years, as the coronavirus pandemic led to one of Hollywood’s worst weekends at the box office.

Receipts totalled about 56 million US dollars (£46 million) in American and Canadian theatres, according to studio estimates on Sunday.

Data firm Comscore said weekend box office revenues had not been as low since September 2000, when 54.5 million US dollars (£44.4 million) worth of tickets were sold on a quiet weekend.

More people went to the movies the weekend after September 11 2001.

Disney’s latest release from Pixar, Onward, remained the top film, earning 10.5 million US dollars (£8.6 million) in its second weekend.

The Christian romance I Still Believe, from Lionsgate, brought in 9.5 million US dollars (£7.7 million), while Sony’s comic book adaptation Bloodshot, with Vin Diesel, grossed an estimated 9.3 million US dollars (£7.6 million).

All of those totals were notably below expectations.

Most of Europe’s cinemas have shut in recent days, along with closures in China, India, Lebanon and Kuwait.

Those closures have already slashed international revenues.

But most American cinemas remained open for business over the weekend.

The two largest chains, AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas, said they would not fill theatres to more than 50% capacity to facilitate social distancing.

Others asked moviegoers to leave empty seats around them. All pledged to clean theatres between screenings.

Other cinemas opted to close, including many in New York.

Of the roughly 5,800 cinemas in the US, about 100 were closed over the weekend.

“With the worldwide coronavirus epidemic causing many domestic theatre chains to go to reduced seating and many international territories to either completely or partially close all theatres, as well as creating uncertainty about going to crowded spaces, all titles have seen larger than expected drops,” Disney said in a statement.

Health officials urged people to stay home and minimise social interaction, especially in states that have instituted bans on larger gatherings.

California put a limit on gatherings of 250 people; New York set its ban at 500 people; Ohio banned gatherings of 100 people or more.

Most of the entertainment world has shut down.

Broadway theatres, major museums and theme parks have closed their doors.

Concerts have been called off. Festivals including South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and the Tribeca Film Festival in New York have been cancelled or delayed.

Most live-action film production has been put on hold.

Hollywood has also postponed most of its upcoming releases.

Next week’s most anticipated movie, A Quiet Place Part 2, has been removed from the schedule.

Other major releases, including Disney’s Mulan and the James Bond film Die Another Day have been put off.

That means that even if movie theatres remain open in the coming weeks, they will have little to play.