LONDON – In the latest blow to the beleaguered film industry, the second-largest movie theater chain in the U.S. is temporarily shuttering its locations Thursday due to a lack of blockbusters on the calendar and major domestic markets like New York remaining closed.
Cineworld Group Plc said Monday that it would close 536 Regal cinemas in the U.S. and 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse venues in the U.K. this week, affecting some 45,000 employees.
“This is not a decision we made lightly,″ said Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger.
In the past few days, the already decimated 2020 release calendar lost another big film in the James Bond pic “No Time to Die.” It is at least partly due to the fact that one of the country's biggest markets, New York, has not committed to a plan or a date for reopening cinemas in the state.
Cineworld has high debts and is, like the wider industry, struggling with the effects of the pandemic. The absence of the biggest North American markets and a consistent, solid release schedule from Hollywood studios have been devastating to their business.
“We never argued the fact that we needed to be closed until we saw that similar activities to us started to open,” Greidinger said, citing indoor dining. “We cannot be in a situation where we lose more cash when we are open than we lose when we are closed."
Last week groups representing theater owners, movie studios and directors issued a plea to U.S. lawmakers to provide relief to ailing movie theaters. The letter, signed by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Patty Jenkins, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese, said that if the status quo continues, nearly 70% of small to mid-size movie theaters could be forced to close permanently.
Efforts to slow the spread of the virus resulted in closure of most cinemas for nearly six months. Many started tentatively reopening in late August, anticipating the release of money-making blockbusters, like Nolan’s “Tenet,” the Bond pic “No Time to Die” and Marvel’s “Black Widow.” Exhibitors also poured resources into enhanced safety and sanitization protocols, including limited capacity theaters, social distanced seating, cashless transactions and staggered showtimes.