‘Onward’ (Photo credit: Disney).

In his 63 years as a film programmer, Bob Parr had never experienced anything like the current crisis as ticket sales flatlined across the country over the past few weeks.

“All exhibitors and distributors are losing a lot of money,” the Wallis Cinemas consultant told IF on Sunday. “Many cinemas have closed because there are no patrons.

“Many small exhibitors make their living in school holidays and barely break even except for blockbusters during the remaining time. They are in the business because they love it.”

Later that day the Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced all cinemas and entertainment venues, registered and licensed clubs, hotels, pubs, casinos and nightclubs will close today.

Exhibitors and distributors had been steeling themselves for that decision after cinemas were shuttered in the US, the UK and myriad other markets.

Now facing zero cash flow, they have to lay off permanent and casual staff, try to renegotiate leases with landlords and defer bank loans.

In any event, cinemas were being strangled to near-death by the lack of product after the major distributors and independents pulled numerous titles.

In the week ending last Wednesday, the top 20 titles’ takings plummeted to an all-time low of $6.9 million.

This past weekend, receipts totaled a pitiful $1.9 million, according to Numero, down a catastrophic 70 per cent on the previous frame.

That doesn’t include previews for Disney/Pixar’s Onward and Roadshow’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, which were both due to open this Thursday.

Directed by Dan Scanlon, Onward follows elves Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and his big brother Barley (Chris Pratt), who live with their mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and stepfather Colt (Mel Rodriguez),a Centaur who works as a local cop.

Their father died of cancer before Ian was born but on his 16th birthday he is given a present left by his dad: a staff and phoenix gem, which might enable the boys to bring him back to life for just 24 hours.

The concept sounds darker than typical Pixar fare and the animated adventure-comedy has under-performed, taking $62 million in the US and $103 million globally before COVID-19 closed cinemas. In the US the title is now available on demand and will premiere on Disney+ on April 3.

‘Never Too Late’ (Photo credit: Bradley Patrick).

The top-grosser here last weekend was Sony Pictures’ Blood Shot, which collected $476,000 in its second weekend on 341 screens, bringing the total to a meagre $2.1 million.

Universal’s The Invisible Man has bagged $7.9 million after adding $429,000 in its fourth outing while Roadshow’s Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears topped $3 million after taking $51,000 in its fourth.

The only new wide release, Roadshow’s historical drama The Current War, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as inventor Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as industrialist George Westinghouse, eked out a feeble $194,000 on 209 screens including previews.

Among the Aussie titles that had been postponed before cinemas went dark is Mark Lamprell’s comedy drama Never Too Late, which follows Jack Thompson, James Cromwell, Dennis Waterman and Roy Billing as Vietnam veterans who plan to break out of their nursing home.

Last Friday Richard Becker and Robert Slaviero’s R&R Films advised exhibitors the April 23 release had been cancelled and they hoped to launch the film in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Transmission Films had already pulled Unjoo Moon’s I Am Woman and Dean Murphy’s The Very Excellent Mr Dundee.

The cinema closures will also delay the launches of Umbrella Entertainment’s Measure for Measure, Madman Entertainment’s Hearts and Bones and High Ground and Icon’s Firestarter: The Story of Baranagaroo.

Despite the film production shutdown in the US and the UK, independent distributors are not worried at this stage about a potential shortage of available product for 2021.

Studiocanal head of theatrical sales and acquisitions Greg Denning tells IF: “We have several Studiocanal films that are completed and several more in post production. Likewise with our Lionsgate/Summit output.

“With releases on hold I think when things go back to normal we may simply see films releasing in staggered fashion until we catch up, since nothing is currently shooting due to COVID-19 shutdowns.”

A Madman Entertainment rep adds: “Madman is always on the lookout for quality film content to share with audiences and we will be led by the market on the best ways to access this.

“We are in regular contact with suppliers and however they make their content available, we will actively participate. We also hope to find new dates for content originally scheduled for the coming months in cinemas as soon as they have guidance on when they can reopen.”

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