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.”
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 prepared 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.”
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 under perform greatly, rivals predict that’s when Black Widow and F9 would move out of May.”
“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.”