Hit by virus outbreak, N.America box office sinks to two-decade low

This theater in Seattle, Washington, was closed due to coronavirus fears on March 12, 2020, one of an estimated 100 theaters to do so in North America

Under the shadow of the coronavirus outbreak, the North American box office had its lowest weekend ticket sales in two decades as viewers stayed home and theaters closed or slashed capacities, industry watcher Exhibitor Relations said.

Pixar/Disney's animated film "Onward" retained the top spot for the second week, but saw ticket sales for the Friday-to-Sunday period plummet from last week's $39 million to just $10.6 million.

Overall, the box office sank to $53.5 million -- a figure even smaller than the weekends after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

The mayors of New York and Los Angeles have ordered all movie theaters to close in their cities.

North America's top movie theater chains are shutting or reducing capacities to allow "social distancing". AMC -- the largest, with 8,000 screens across the continent -- will cap US audiences at 50 percent, while Regal is closing all US screens from Tuesday "until further notice."

In second spot for the weekend was new Sony film "Bloodshot," a superhero film starring Vin Diesel. It took in $9.2 million.

Third spot went to another new release, Lionsgate's "I Still Believe," at $9.1 million. The cast of the Christian romantic drama includes country singer Shania Twain.

Universal's thriller "The Invisible Man" placed fourth, at $5.9 million. It stars Elisabeth Moss as the former girlfriend of a man who returns to haunt her after supposedly committing suicide.

And in fifth spot was another new film, Universal's thriller "The Hunt," at $5.3 million. Hilary Swank and Betty Gilpin are among the stars in a tale of a dozen strangers who find themselves being pursued, as a sport, by a group of wealthy hunters.

Due to the pandemic, Universal said upcoming releases will be made available via home streaming on the same day they hit remaining theaters. Films currently playing in theaters will be available to stream "as early as Friday."

Rounding out the top 10 were:

"Sonic the Hedgehog" ($2.5 million)

"The Way Back" ($2.4 million)

"The Call of the Wild" ($2.2 million)

"Emma" ($1.3 million)

"Bad Boys for Life" ($1.1 million)