Cineworld said Monday it will temporarily close over 500 Regal Cinema locations in the U.S., along with 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse venues in the U.K.
The theaters are set to close Friday "until further notice," the company said, due to the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on business. It was a delay in delivery of the new James Bond film which became the last straw for the struggling theater chain.
As other big films prepare to hit screens, it could be possible that a massive theater closure like this could delay the release of other blockbusters even longer. Disney/Pixar's "Soul" was set to be ready for audiences in November, and both "Dune" and "Wonder Woman 1984" were set to release by December.
Monday, the Hollywood Reporter said according to their sources, the Warner Bros. ambitious and big-budget film "Dune," would be delayed by nearly a year, to Oct. 2021.
Just three weeks prior, Warner Bros. had to move Wonder Woman 1984 from it's original October 2020 release date, to Christmas 2020.
With the theater chain's high debts, like the wider theater industry as a whole, Regal is struggling with the effects of the pandemic. Regal says that with major markets such as New York closed and no guidance on when they will be able to reopen, “studios have been reluctant to release their pipeline of new films.”
Without these releases, the company can’t give customers “the breadth of strong commercial films necessary for them to consider coming back to theaters against the backdrop of COVID-19.’’
“This is not a decision we made lightly, and we did everything in our power to support safe and sustainable reopenings in all of our markets - including meeting, and often exceeding, local health and safety guidelines in our theaters and working constructively with regulators and industry bodies to restore public confidence in our industry,″ said Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Cineworld.
The statement came after the Sunday Times reported that Cineworld’s U.K. and Ireland theaters would shut indefinitely, putting up to 5,500 people out of work.
The newspaper and other outlets reported that Cineworld plans to write to U.K. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden saying the cinema business has become “unviable,” because studios are postponing blockbuster releases citing the coronavirus pandemic and safety.
Staff say they were not informed or consulted about closures.
“If these reports are true, then the first people Cineworld should be informing are their staff who will suffer as a result -- not the Sunday newspapers,” said Philippa Childs, head of the entertainment workers’ union BECTU.
British movie theaters began to reopen in July, but Childs said “the stark reality is that without new releases it is unlikely that footfall will increase to a level that makes opening financially viable.”
Movie theaters have remained closed in New York and Los Angeles, two of North America’s biggest markets.
Producers said last week that the 25th Bond action-packed thriller, “No Time to Die,” which was due to open in November, would be delayed until April 2021 because of the effect the pandemic has had on the movie business as a whole.
Other major studios have made similar decisions over the past few weeks. Universal delayed “Candyman” until 2021, and the Walt Disney Company postponed an additional handful of major movies until next year as well, including Marvel’s “Black Widow” and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”
The already struggling theater business has been hit hard by the pandemic. Squeamish patrons fearful about returning to indoor theaters haven't helped in the recovery, as countries are still grappling with mitigating the coronavirus spread.
Cineworld reported a loss of $1.6 billion in the first half of 2020 and the largest theater chain in the U.S., AMC, has also struggled to get by this year, as The Verge reports.
Regal Cinemas is the second-largest domestic theater chain in the United States, and Cineworld is the U.K.'s largest cinema brand.
Recently, Regal had announced theater reopenings in North Carolina, which now face a reshuttering just days later.
The Associated Press contributed.