Nobody likes buying overpriced snacks at the movie theater. But with cinemas in China dealing with a prolonged shutdown because of the coronavirus, they’re now hoping people will order theater snacks from the comfort of their own homes.

Chinese cinemas can no longer count on ticket sales thanks to people staying away from public venues. And to make things worse, they have an aging inventory of snacks they need to get rid of. So to compensate for some of the loss of business over the last several weeks, some cinemas are selling discounted snacks online.

In an article posted on WeChat, Chinese real estate and cinema giant Wanda Group said people can now call their local cinemas to order snacks like popcorn chicken, sausages and ice cream. Some local Wanda cinemas are also selling off other miscellaneous items they have on hand, like a Lunar New Year edition Mickey Mouse stuffed animal.

A theater at Wanda’s 50 billion yuan (US$7.1 billion) production studio Oriental Movie Metropolis in Qingdao in 2018. (Picture: Bloomberg)

But smaller cinema chains might need help getting the word out. A Weibo user who operates a popular account dedicated to movie-related topics told us that he has been taking requests from cinemas across China to help post information about what snacks and drinks they want to sell. 

The Weibo account, named “Theater chain movie database,” has more than 145,000 followers. We checked out some of the phone numbers left on the account and called three cinema employees in the cities of Kunming, Suzhou and Chongqing. They told us they’re selling snacks below cost or close to cost, but they’re still not getting a lot of orders.

“It’s better than nothing,” said one cinema worker surnamed Heng who works at Er Dong theater in Suzhou. Heng said most people who do place orders are near the cinema and retrieve orders through contactless pick-up, which was popularized by delivery companies to avoid contact during the coronavirus outbreak. 

The forced closures of Chinese cinemas following the outbreak has nearly crippled the country’s film industry. According to data by entainment industry research firm EntGroup, last week (February 10 to February 16), China’s box office grossed only 1.6 million yuan (US$227,500). In comparison, from December 9 to December 15, before the outbreak spread throughout the country, China’s box office grossed more than 764 million yuan (US$108 million).

As a result, several major releases were canceled, including Jojo Rabbit and Little Women, which were slated for a Valentine’s Day release in China. And the upcoming China release of Disney’s Mulan is still up in the air. 

Disney’s next big live-action remake is scheduled to hit cinemas worldwide on March 26 and March 27. The new Mulan reportedly cost $200 million to make,  and it was expected to be a big success in China. New posters released by the Mulan movie’s official Weibo account and a new Chinese trailer released by Disney Taiwan today are still making the rounds on Weibo, with many fans commenting about their excitement.

Disney CEO Bob Iger told CNBC earlier this month that the company isn’t sure when Mulan might get released in China. Disney didn’t respond to questions about further developments.