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Coronavirus, James Bond and the challenge for the movie industry

As Coronavirus fears rise, the latest James Bond has had its release delayed. Film expert Simon Brew examines what the broader impact might be for the movie industry

Appreciating that there are more pressing concerns where the current headline-gobbling Coronavirus spread is concerned, there was nonetheless few more surprising developments than the announcement on Wednesday that the one concerning James Bond.

The upcoming 007 movie, No Time To Die – a title that’s proving a gift to leader writers – has been shifted back seven months at the very last minute, from April to November. To give an idea as to how unexpected this was, several long-planned magazine front covers have already gone on sale, and the PR team working on the film are now scrambling to delay whatever planned coverage they can until the end of the year.

The move came days after Bond fan groups had asked for the film to be delayed, but in truth, the catalyst was news such as China’s cinema industry virtually shutting down. That cinemas were closing as part of efforts to contain the spread of the virus. This, in turn, has decimated box office returns, and with already a high-profile premiere and press junket cancelled in China, the expectation was that other countries would be following suit.

Bottom line: the new James Bond film, estimated to be the longest and one of the most expensive, was staring down the Walther PPK-barrel of significantly reduced box office returns. And with due respect to the excellent fan groups who had asked for the delay, it was the fiscal aspect of it that likely led to the seemingly-sudden decision.

Certainly as little as two weeks ago, this wasn’t planned, and all eyes have been on other releases to see how the rest of the film industry would adapt. In the US, the release of Trolls World Tour promptly jumped into the April release slot vacated by Bond, but thus far, everyone else is holding their ground. The next huge films on the calendar are Black Widow and Fast & Furious 9, both post-Easter, and the respective studios – Disney and Universal – have confirmed they currently have no plans to delay either. More immediately, the release of Disney’s live action Mulan and Paramount’s A Quiet Place – Part II this month are pressing ahead in most territories, the UK included.

It’s likely, though, that studios will monitor the box office returns of both before making a call on what to do with the rest of their upcoming slates. And in the background of all of this, whilst concerns are raised as to whether people will want to head to cinemas in the midst of a virus scare, films that deal with such subject matter – primarily Contagion and Outbreak – are enjoying an unexpected boom on video-on-demand services.