James Bond has faced and overcome everything from metal-jawed henchmen to terrorists who feel no pain. He’s triumphed against the most insane plans for world domination executed by every manner of madman. However, in 2020, the world’s most famous spy has seemingly met his match. At least when it comes to the release date of his latest movie, No Time to Die, which was just weeks away from hitting screens but has now been delayed from its planned 2 April debut to November.
So who is the fiend behind this delay? Coronavirus. The Covid-19 virus has been rampaging across the world since it was first identified in Wuhan, China in December of last year. At the time of writing, there have been more than 94 000 infections worldwide with over 3 200 people dying from the acute respiratory disease. The majority of those infections and fatalities have occurred in China which has been in a state of lockdown for weeks now. That includes the Chinese box office, the second-biggest movie market on the planet.
The entertainment industry has felt the impact globally though as fears about Covid-19 has caused potential cinemagoers to rather stay home. Several other major public events, such as the Mobile World Congress and Game Developer Conference, have been cancelled or delayed already due to the global epidemic. Earlier this week, Disney also cancelled their European media launch event for Disney+ amid concerns.
A number of prominent James Bond fan sites have been following suit for the last few weeks calling on MGM/Universal to delay the release of No Time to Die. In an open letter penned to the studios, the founders of M16 Confidential and The James Bond Dossier made their heartfelt plea to put public safety before their entertainment.
With the Coronavirus reaching pandemic status, it is time to put public health above marketing release schedules and the cost of canceling publicity events. Major events around the world have already been canceled or postponed due to health risks. Leading tech companies have banned travel for hundreds of thousands of employees, including Amazon and Google. All before the US and UK outbreaks expand.
That brings us to the world premiere for No Time To Die set for March 31st in London. Hundreds of fans and celebrities from around the world will be flying to the UK to attend. The Royal Albert Hall capacity is above the 5,000 limit that affected countries are banning for public gatherings. Just one person, who may not even show symptoms, could infect the rest of the audience. This is not the type of publicity anyone wants.
Well, the studios have listened. However, it’s believed that this decision has nothing to do with fear of spreading infections in public places, but is purely commercial. China makes up the lion’s share of international earnings for major Hollywood blockbusterS, often carrying films to success. With the Chinese lockdown, the box office revenue for the Asian market thus far this year has plummeted 99.7% in comparison to the same period in 2019. The James Bond paymasters cannot afford to open with numbers like that, especially not as this is supposed to be star Daniel Craig’s grand swan song as he exits the titular role.
There are, of course, going to be repercussions to this. The most immediate will be studio release schedules. Some movies will scramble to take No Time to Die’s spot on the lucrative Easter weekend, while others will want to get out of the bankable Bond’s way in November. However, the bigger shakeup could occur because of the precedent being set here.
James Bond isn’t the only movie franchise that relies on China for massive portions of its international revenue. Marvel’s Black Widow, Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman 1984, and Universal’s F9 aka Fast & Furious 9 are just some of the major releases over the next few months that may just be rethinking their scheduling now. This is especially true for F9 as it was largely China that turned the Vin Diesel-led Fast & Furious franchise into a nearly $6 billion strong box office juggernaut. Should we be expecting a spate of similar delay announcements over the next few weeks in light of Covid-19’s impact? Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised.
As for us back home in South Africa, I’ve already reached out to UIP SA, Universal’s local distribution arm, about a new release date for No Time to Die. I’ve also asked about what will happen to anybody – like me – who has already bought tickets after sales opened on Monday morning. I’ve not received a reply yet, but I will update this article as soon as I hear more.
UPDATE: We’ve received official confirmation from UIP SA that the local release date has been updated to 27 November 2020. There’s still no word yet on existing ticket bookings though.
Last Updated: March 5, 2020