With most theaters in the United States closed because of COVID-19, the box office recorded zero revenue for the first time in history this weekend.

For the first time ever, the US box office has recorded zero revenue. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can be felt in different industries worldwide, from small and independent businesses to huge corporations. With 17 states in the US having initiated stay at home orders and movie theaters being asked to close their doors to stop the spread of the virus, this outcome is not a huge surprise – but it is unprecedented.

By the look of things, this pandemic will not be slowing down and theaters will likely still need to stay closed for the foreseeable future. The entertainment industry has ground to a standstill, with studios unable to release new films to theaters. Most have been delayed, with a few being released on VOD as their premiere and others released on VOD early after having been in theaters for only a couple weeks.

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The Shifting Box Office Landscape

onward box office

Production has halted on most upcoming films and shows, and this along with theater closures has left a huge number of people in the entertainment industry out of work. These theater closures have meant theater workers are out of work for the foreseeable future and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) are asking the US government for a bailout. This is after the NATO board has authorized $1 million to be drawn from its own reserve to try and help the out of work movie theater employees. The United States’ multi-billion-dollar movie theater industry has dropped to making nearly nothing in the span of a week and it doesn’t look like there will be much new business any time soon.

These shutdowns have enormous financial implications on the entertainment industry as a whole with studios looking at massive losses due to the halt in production and delays in theatrical releases. All of this has led to a box office that for the first time in history recorded zero revenue. This is due to the major theaters (AMC, Regal) closing across the country and the social distancing that has been strongly suggested if not ordered by state governments. While not every theater is closed many more are closed than open. The lack of box office report is also tied to the major distributors in Hollywood, led by Disney, declining to release figures. 

However, there is a small amount of revenue coming in with most of the money coming from movies being screened at Drive-Ins. That being said, the number is so small that to this multi-billion-dollar industry it is negligible, which is why it isn’t included in an official box office report. In states that have not given stay-at-home orders, drive-ins have been the most profitable theaters with Onward leading the extremely small revenue brought in. Deadline reports that Onward was played at 135 locations grossing $71,000. The three other movies reported include Universal Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man earned $64,000 at 111 theaters, Sony’s Bloodshot earned $52,000 at 79 theaters, and Disney 20th Century Studio’s Call of the Wild earned $46,500 at 86 theaters.

Most of these movies and others that were in theaters will be or already have been released for people to rent or buy on VOD much earlier than expected. Onward will also be available on Disney+ April 3rd many months earlier than anticipated. Trolls World Wide will premiere on VOD April 10th and while it is supposed to have a simultaneous home and theatrical release the question becomes will theaters be open at that point?

The theaters attempting to stay open in the face of this pandemic are likely hurting more than helping. Theater closure, social distancing, and full on quarantine are necessary right now for public health and safety. Some in the entertainment industry are understandably concerned about what movie theaters will look like after the pandemic. Theaters will not disappear entirely because of the need for theatrical releases of studio’s tent pole films and franchises. While this is the first time the US box office has reported zero revenue, it likely will not be the last.