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Harry Potter and A Dog's Journey: Chinese cinemas detail plans to lure back audiences after coronavirus | Film

Plans to kickstart business at Chinese cinemas, when most of its 70,000 screens reopen at the end of March, have been announced.

Variety reports that China’s main state-owned distributor, which funnels government-approved product into cinemas, has chosen a small handful of popular titles to try to lure audiences back.

The China Film Group announced that these films would include Chinese blockbusters American Dreams in China and 2015’s Wolf Totem, and two patriotic crowdpleasers whose box-office appeal has already been tested: Wolf Warrior 2 and The Wandering Earth.

Overseas films to be included in the rescue package are Green Book, the winner of last year’s best picture Oscar, Dennis Quaid-voiced family film A Dog’s Purpose and critical hit Capernaum by Lebanese director Nadine Labaki.

Producers and distributors will waive their usual 43% box office cut in an effort to try and keep cinemas afloat. The China Film Group calls this “a charity model” in a statement addressed to cinema operators in the country.

They continued: “We recommend that cinemas consider doing charitable, free or low-cost screenings to benefit viewers.” The group also confirmed that cinemas will be forced to follow strict hygiene and disinfection protocols.

Later in the spring – possibly around the 30 April national holiday – a 3D, 4K restoration of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone will look to further boost numbers. The announcement on Thursday by Warner Bros was greeted with considerable excitement on Chinese social media sites.

A handful of cinemas have already reopened, with around 17 across the country recording ticket sales, according to data resource Maoyan. Most are in the north-west province of Xinjiang, where there have been no new coronavirus cases for 27 consecutive days.

Few new releases will have wanted to be the first to test in the market in most of China’s reopened cinemas, as audiences are likely to stay away at the start of the initiative. However, classic titles tend to perform well, with a release of Life Is Beautiful making $8.2m in 22 days before cinemas shut just before the lunar new year holiday at the end of January.

One consulting firm suggested that the loss from that holiday period alone amount to around $1bn.

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