Daniel Craig’s swansong as James Bond has become the first major film to fall foul of the coronavirus outbreak, with the release of No Time To Die delayed by seven months until November.
With growing health concerns around the world, what could it mean for the film industry?
Why was this decision taken?
Bond producers didn’t directly mention coronavirus in their statement announcing the delay. Instead, MGM said it took the decision after “careful consideration and thorough evaluation of the global theatrical marketplace”.
Is that code for coronavirus?
“Yes,” says BBC arts correspondent David Sillito. “Just look at what’s happening in the world.
“This was going to be the first big global blockbuster of the season, and this is a film that makes two thirds of its money outside of the US, it’s a huge worldwide business.”
Film critic Siobhan Synott tells BBC Breakfast: “This is definitely a question of economics. The promotional work was well under way, we already had the title song released in February, but now it’s all on hold.”
Unlike some of the other major film studios, who stagger releases throughout the year, MGM is heavily reliant on James Bond, and depends on its financial success. The studio would have had less to fall back on if it had underperformed.
Which other films could be affected?
“At this very minute in major studio distribution huddles across town, there’s war-room talk of what major event pictures could potentially move in the next three months as executives try to assess coronavirus’ impact at the global box office,” writes Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro.
Two of the next scheduled blockbusters are Disney and Marvel’s Black Widow and Universal’s ninth film in the Fast & Furious franchise, F9 – both set for release in May.
Both Disney and Universal currently plan to release the films as scheduled.
“I should think the distributors and the studios are monitoring the situation every hour, so everything might change again,” Screen International’s deputy editor Louise Tutt tells BBC News.
Major releases scheduled for June include the computer-animated Scooby Doo adventure Scoob! as well as Wonder Woman 1984 – both from Warner Brothers.
One further difficulty is that film schedules are organised months in advance, with studios picking release dates deliberately to avoid competition. If one film is delayed, that creates a backlog of major releases, which would squash them much closer together.
A number of releases have already been delayed in China, where the outbreak began. All 70,000 cinemas have been closed in the country since January, and other nations including Japan, South Korea and parts of Italy have also seen some temporary closures in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus.
“In China, there’s a particular problem for all those movies that are lining up,” Synott says. “Little Women, 1917 and Jojo Rabbit have still to be released in China, but there are very few slots available.”
Which film releases are going ahead?
For films which are already in the process of being shipped to cinemas, with advertising campaigns that run into the multi-millions, it’s simply too late and too expensive to pull them.
But it’s not a dead-cert that such films will be affected at the box office beyond China, because analysts don’t yet know how much the public are likely to avoid cinemas. The official advice remains carrying on as normal in many countries, including the UK and US.
“The month of March will be the true test if there’s any global box office fallout from the virus, with Disney’s Onward opening this weekend, Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II on 20 March, and Disney’s Mulan on 27 March,” notes D’Alessandro.
“Despite these movies delaying some of their foreign territory openings, the studios are unable to pull them from the calendar now as their P&A [print and advertising] is locked and loaded. Should this trio underperform greatly, rivals predict that’s when Black Widow and F9 would move out of May.”
How upset are James Bond fans?
Many were disappointed, but also understanding, after the announcement of No Time To Die’s delay.
“Bond fans have been shaken by this, maybe even a little bit stirred,” Ajay Chowdhury, editor of the James Bond International Fan Club, tells the BBC.
“We’re disappointed, but obviously there’s a much bigger picture at stake here than just the release of a James Bond film.
“I guess now it’s become the even-more-anticipated movie of 2020, the publicity just ratchets it up.”
Plus, he jokes: “Absence does make the heart grow Bonder.”
Louise Tutt points out: “The last two Bond films have been released in November, so it’s being pushed back to a familiar slot for the franchise.”
The promotional machine has already swung into motion, though, with Daniel Craig currently due to go ahead with his hosting slot on Saturday Night Live this weekend.
What do I need to know about the coronavirus?
How damaging could coronavirus be for Hollywood and cinemas?
“It could be hugely damaging,” says Tutt, noting the $2bn (£1.53bn) fall in box office takings in China alone in the first two months of the year.
“China’s a huge market for these US studios, and coronavirus fears are really cranking up in the States, so I think they are anticipating cinema closures – or people being discouraged from going to public places like that at some point. Which is probably what will happen here as well at some point.”
But The Hollywood Reporter’s Pamela McClintock notes: “For now, No Time to Die, which carries a budget of around $250m before marketing, appears to be a lone wolf.
“That’s reassuring news for cinema owners, who are already under assault from the rise of streaming services.”
If we’re all in self-isolation, then perhaps we’ll be watching the streaming and on-demand platforms instead.
And films about global pandemics could be especially popular. According to Deadline, 2011 drama Contagion, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, and Jude Law, has shot up to become the second-most watched movie in the Warner Bros catalogue, only behind the Harry Potter franchise.