‘Little Women,’ ‘1917’ Likely Among First Films to Hit Reopened Chinese Theaters

By Rebecca Davis

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – “Little Women” and “1917” appear to be among the first titles that will hit Chinese theaters when they reopen in the wake of the novel coronavirus, new posters and promotion indicate.

The two titles have already passed Chinese censorship approvals and were scheduled for release in February, just after the Oscars, but were bumped when cinemas shuttered nationwide. No release date has been set, but the two films have released new posters.

The one for “1917” features two soldiers striding forward through a scrim of cherry blossoms and barbed wire above the tagline, “Make a date with cinemas, together as before.”

The marketing is an interesting window into the sorts of messaging distributors think will pull audiences back into theaters at a time when people remain understandably wary about COVID-19. Business was terrible when theaters opened briefly in March. With nothing to show but old Chinese titles that many had already seen, attendance at one point was as low as one person per screening nationwide.

“Little Women” was supposed to have hit China on Valentine’s Day. A new poster now reads, “Don’t miss out on love and freedom” above the tagline “On the big screen; stay tuned.”

Online ticket platform Maoyan has been promoting the film by saying, “Love and happiness will always be able to withstand waiting. … The cinema screens are already prepared and waiting for you.”

On Friday, China’s top administrative body, the state council, announced that entertainment venues such as cinemas could reopen as long as they controlled crowds and used pre-booking methods — an about-face from official rhetoric in April.

But cinemas have yet to receive the green light from local authorities to reopen, and no screenings are currently scheduled on China’s online ticketing apps.

“The statement was just released by the State Council on Friday and it takes time to be implemented in various provinces and regions,” Yang Fabao, dean of the Renmin Theater in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, told the Global Times. Xinjiang, which had a lighter coronavirus case load, was one of the first areas to attempt reopening cinemas back in March.

Chinese authorities estimate that box office losses due to coronavirus closures may exceed $4.2 billion this year.

On Wednesday, top Chinese CDC official Shi Xiaoming put forward a number of measures that theaters in low-risk areas should take in order to reopen, when the time comes. Theatres should make sure to have enough disinfectants on hand, improve online pre-booking channels and on-site methods of no-contact digital ticketing, ensure that tickets are sold for seats spaced one meter apart, conduct regular cleanings, improve ventilation, and provide proper PPE for staff.

He also called on viewers to avoid going to movies with friends, and instead lean towards watching them alone or with family members.

An unconfirmed statement from one insider said cinemas may reopen nationwide sometime around the week of June 5. The initial spate of films currently being discussed may also include other 2020 Oscar nominees previously approved for release, including “Marriage Story,” “Jojo Rabbit” and “Ford v Ferrari”; classic older films like the “Avengers” series, the “Harry Potter” franchise, “Inception,” “Interstellar” and “Coco”; and new Chinese titles — either comedies or some of the postponed Chinese New Year blockbusters.