After placing strict restrictions on millions of people for months as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, China appears to have successfully gained leverage over the outbreak. On Wednesday, Hubei, the Chinese province where the coronavirus first originated, began allowing an estimated 60 million residents to resume travel. Businesses like restaurants, shopping malls, and cinemas across the country have started to reopen.
Currently, there are 600 to 700 Chinese movie theaters open for business. Most of these theaters are small operators with just a few screens in more remote areas less affected by the virus. Though no nationwide Chinese theaters have announced reopening, it is hopeful that more and more cinemas each day will be open to the public in the near future.
The regulators of these theaters are turning to past blockbusters to help fill the seats. All four movies in Marvel’s Avengers franchise are set to be rereleased in the country in the upcoming days. Other past Hollywood blockbusters including Avatar and Warner Bros.’ Christopher Nolan films Inception and Interstellar will hit theaters as well. Though the official release dates of these blockbusters have not yet been revealed, a source from China’s nationwide cinema operators reported that “basically, whenever the DCPs reach the cinemas” will be when the films will play in these reopened theaters.
Not only is this a much-needed sign of progress for regulating the virus pandemic, but releasing fan favorites also can mean big business in China. These Hollywood titles set for rerelease are historically among the most popular movies in China’s box office. Avatar earned a historic $202 million in China in 2009, when the country had just a small fraction of its current total of 70,000 movie screens nationwide. In 2010, Inception grossed $68.5 million and garnered a strong cult following. In 2015, Interstellar earned $122 million. Meanwhile, the four installments of The Avengers is by far China’s favorite international film franchise, collectively grossing $1.3 billion there.
Operators will now face challenges of convincing moviegoers that it is safe to return in large numbers to public spaces, and convincing distributors to continue marketing and releasing household titles. With hopes to return back to normalcy, a source tells Deadline that “I think it’s more about getting audiences comfortable with going to the cinema… People are going to have to be convinced.”