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China movie screens start to brighten up, albeit slowly

As the number of COVID-19 infections were dropping in China, the Chinese government has allowed the re-opening of more than 500 cinema screens that were closed since the beginning of 2020. Five provinces – Xinjiang, Shandong, Sichuan, Fujian and Guangdong – reopened their theatres on March 21.

However, the return to normalcy is expected to be slow as the 500 screens represent less than 5% of the 70,000 cinemas in the country.

Theatres were shut during the weekend of the Chinese New Year in January, typically the busiest movie-going time in China each year.

Movie takings over the March 21 weekend, however, only reached US$2,000, with cinemas in Fujian and Guangdong selling not a single ticket at all.

To date, China’s movie industry is estimated to have lost close to US$2 billion during the first three months of the year. With new movies put on hold, older titles such as sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth and 2019 crime thriller Sheep Without A Shepherd are now being re-run.

Warner has used its Chinese social media site to tease a possible release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in a bid to reinvigorate cinema going in China, although no date has been set for the release.

In the US, major theatre chains like AMC and Regal have closed all locations in accordance with social distancing guidelines that limit public gatherings to stop the spread of the pandemic. New releases such as the latest Bond instalment No Time to Die, Black Widow and Fast and Furious 9 have all been delayed.

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