The Covid-19 outbreak has hit Hollywood productions and wrecked film festivals. Photo: AFP / Robyn Beck

The new James Bond movie delayed. Studios scrapping film festivals. Blockbuster productions shut down.

Hollywood is being rocked by the unprecedented challenge of the new coronavirus or Covid-19.

“I have never seen anything where this many films are going to be affected all at once,” Jeff Bock, a senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, said.

“There’s isolated incidents or tragedies that happen, that might affect a certain film. But this really does infect all the industry from top to bottom,” he added,

Industry estimates put the financial loss from Asian theaters already closed this year at around US$2 billion.

Major Hollywood titles including Mulan – Disney’s China-set live-action blockbuster – have been placed on hold in China.

The last-minute global delay of 007 adventure No Time To Die, including its United States and European releases, highlights the borderless impact of the virus.

For now, US theater attendances are holding steady despite fears of spreading infection, and Mulan remains penned in for launch this month in North America.

But new coronavirus outbreaks in California and New York, and multiple deaths in Washington state, could impact receipts.

“We’ll see a little bit of downturn this week – by the time Mulan comes out, if this breaks as big as it did in China, it’s going to change the entire landscape,” Bock said.

Meanwhile, massive buyers including Netflix, Amazon and Apple have pulled out of the SXSW festival in Texas, an important marketplace for movies. The impact will not be restricted to major studios.

Stephen Nemeth, who produced Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) starring Jonny Depp, had another Hunter S Thompson-themed film set to make its world premiere at the Austin festival. “We are forging ahead,” he said before the festival was canceled.

Other movie gatherings, including CinemaCon in Las Vegas and the Cannes film festival, are under scrutiny.

Production of movies has also been hit. A scheduled three-week shoot for the new Tom Cruise-starring Mission Impossible in Italy – one of the worst-affected countries – was stopped last month.

Paramount moved the filming out of “an abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our cast and crew.” 

Netflix is looking for alternative locations to shoot a part of new Dwayne Johnson movie Red Notice that had been due to film in Italy. 

“What it’s doing is testing location managers on being super nimble problem solvers,” Paul Dergarabedian, a senior Comscore analyst, pointing out that production workers “are a tenacious and inventive bunch.”

But the logistics of filming anywhere – especially productions that require hundreds of actors and extras – make it appear a risky proposition right now, according to Nemeth.

“I do not begrudge actors for not wanting to continue with a movie,” he said. “Every film is its own little village. Those are people all dining together, waiting in the same line at the same lunch truck. You have many, many, many people in a confined area.”

Any blockage in the relentless pipeline of movie production could leave a dearth of movies further ahead.

“The longer that goes on, the fewer films that we get in the pipeline for 2021, 2022,” Bock said. “This has the potential to really cripple the theatrical industry the longer it goes on.”