With news that the upcoming James Bond film No Time to Die has been delayed until November 25 due to concerns about the coronavirus, IGN spoke with various medical experts to learn about how that decision may impact the spread of COVID-19.
When Universal, MGM, and Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli announced their decision to delay No Time to Die, they didn’t specifically cite the coronavirus as the reason why, but THR reports that it was COVID-19’s impact on international markets that prompted the move. Between China’s cinema blackout and other countries that are heavily impacted by coronavirus like South Korea, Italy, and Japan where numerous theaters have been shut down, there are hundreds of millions of dollars at risk of being lost if the movie were to open in early April.
THR says that the move to November will likely cost MGM $30-50 million, but the studio views that as an acceptable loss because opening the movie as originally planned would lose them an estimated 30 percent off the expected global box office gross of $1 billion — a much heftier $300 million. China brings in the second-highest annual box office revenue next to the US ($9.2 billion in 2019), but over 70,000 theaters are currently closed with no plans to reopen anytime soon.
As far as medical experts are concerned, the main goal is to stop the spread of the virus. It turns out that moving a release to November may run counter to that goal, according to Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. She says it’s difficult to predict what the state of the outbreak will be by November, so there’s no telling if studios moving their films to the end of the year will prove to be a good idea.
On one hand, the coronavirus outbreak could be even worse come November. If that’s the case, then drawing people together with a big release could increase the spread of the virus. She also points out how November is flu season in the US, so debuting a domestic blockbuster during that period could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus in the same way the flu goes around during wintertime each year.
“In the wintertime that’s when usual influenza season is and people are because of the cold more susceptible to things and they’re more likely to be congregating together in warm places and sharing their viruses,” she said. “Plus just as the virus spreads, more and more people could be infected by the time November rolls around.”
Unfortunately for the film industry, movie theaters are a prime location for the coronavirus to spread. Another medical expert, Dr. Angela Rasmussen from the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University, explains why.
“Crowded places like movie theaters in which people are in close proximity, sharing communal surfaces, and eating with their hands could definitely further the spread of coronavirus,” she said.
On the other hand, there’s the scenario where the coronavirus is more under control by November, but movie studios have no certainty that that will be the case, which is why moving the new 007 flick to November in hopes that it will open after the virus has died down is little more than wishful thinking. But to protect their investment and ensure the film performs at the box office as expected, that’s the best they can do.
As of now, no other studios have delayed a major release. Disney’s Black Widow hits on May 1 and Universal’s F9 on May 22, but neither studio has no plans to move off those dates. An executive at a major studio who wishes to remain anonymous told IGN most studios likely won’t movie their films until the government steps in and says it’s not safe to go to movie theaters. They said right now studios are mostly concerned with the safety of their employees, the financial performance of their films, and their ability to market those films. If it does get to the point where health officials advise not going to movie theaters, then the major studios, theater chains, and the NPAA will come together to decide on delays and closures, they explained, and until that happens, the decision to visit the movie theater still remains with individual consumers.
Dr. Orient points out a common misconception that the “heat of the summer” will kill off the virus and make things better by November.
“Singapore’s having summer right now. They’re having a lot of coronavirus. No, heat does not kill the virus. Ultraviolet light probably does. If people are outside more and inside less in confined areas, then that may cut down on the transmission of the virus, but just having a warmer climate does not necessarily kill the virus,” she said.
As far as practical steps that theaters can take to ensure the safety of patrons, Dr. Orient suggests providing hand sanitizer comprised of at least 70% alcohol, installing UV sanitizer lights that can potentially kill the virus, and even selling medical face masks. She says that these masks are intended to be worn by people who are already sick to prevent the spread of their sickness. With the exception of specialized N95 masks, most masks do little to protect those wanting to avoid getting sick because small particles can easily go around or through the mask and even infect people through their eyeball membranes.
While Dr. Rasmussen isn’t sold on the idea of UV sanitizer lights, she does have some other suggestions for theaters that may prove effective.
“UV sanitizer lights may work, but that’s dependent on how far the light is from the surface being disinfected, so I’m dubious that this would effectively sanitize an entire theater,” she said. “Much better would be thorough cleaning between movies, which I don’t think is very feasible. It’s a good idea for all public places to make hand sanitizer widely available, though, along with well-stocked soap dispensers in the bathrooms. And paper towels for hand drying rather than air dryers or cloth towel rollers.”
The CDC recommends that people wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and to avoid touching their face after making contact with a surface as the best defense against catching the virus.
All that said, Dr. Orient recognizes that if theaters start to incorporate various methods to help stop the spread of the virus in order to make moviegoers feel safe, it could very well have the opposite effect.
“[These preventative practices] might make people more scared because it calls to their attention the fact that they’re going to be in a room with other people and some of them might be sick,” she said.
So is it still safe to go to the movie theater given the state of the coronavirus outbreak?
“[Moviegoers] can continue as normal provided they themselves are not sick or haven’t been exposed to someone who is, but that assumes they are adhering to good hand hygiene practices and social distancing behaviors,” Dr. Rasmussen advised. “Communities that are hardest hit by coronavirus may consider closing theaters temporarily.”
Joshua is Senior Features Editor at IGN. If Pokemon, Green Lantern, or Game of Thrones are frequently used words in your vocabulary, you’ll want to follow him on Twitter @JoshuaYehl and IGN.