While the state of theaters in the United States is, well, a complete and utter mess, this past weekend marked the largest-scale reopening of Chinese cinemas since the outbreak of Covid-19, with a resultant surge of box office activity.
The Robert Downey Jr-led Dolittle and Valiant Comics actioneer Bloodshot went straight to the top of the anthill with $4.71 and $2.61 million, respectively. The top five were rounded out by Sheep Without a Shepherd (a Chinese-produced crime thriller from late 2019) and rereleases of Disney’s Coco and Zootopia.
Chinese theaters have been scrambling with meager repertory screenings since the pandemic took root in March, with a faltering box office where theaters were open at all. Beijing was officially given the OK to reopen its theaters this past Friday, the 24th, after six months of lockdown due to Covid-19. This includes hundreds of IMAX theaters, more than half of which (across China) are now open with severe restrictions in seating and operations in place.
The story here is something of a no-brainer: New movies sell better than older movies. Bloodshot and Dolittle were some of the first casualties of the widespread delays and indefinite holds that are affecting wrapped-and-ready Hollywood productions. Still, the minimal returns seen in the opening weekend numbers are such a far-cry from what was once “normal,” these early days in China are an indicator of the shaky days that lie ahead for other theaters, internationally. And America isn’t even close to even considering a reopening of its theaters.
Still, any signs of recovery are good signs. While the reimplementation of theaters is bound to be a slow road to any semblance of normalcy, that the Chinese numbers can be seen as optimistic is indication of a desire for the cinematic experience, to the contrary of what VoD-pushers and streaming analysts might describe as the decline of the cinematic experience. When it will be “safe” again, in the purest sense of the word, is something out of the hands of theater executives.
The cinema has weathered its fair share of storms, and will likely continue to do so for many years to come. I know I long to return to the theater to resume my routine of seeing just anything. I will not, however, risk my life to suffer Dolittle a second time.