Britain’s biggest cinema chain, Cineworld, is to shut all its UK and US venues, putting up to 5,500 jobs in Britain at risk, after the latest James Bond movie was delayed into next year.
Cineworld, which owns the Regal cinema and Picturehouse chains, is understood to be preparing to announce plans to close all its 127 theatres in the UK as soon as Monday. It is also closing all its 536 Regal cinemas in the US. Cineworld employed 37,000 people globally before the pandemic, with 5,500 in the UK.
Its cinema in Dublin, its only venue in Ireland, had to close due to tightened Covid-19 restrictions two weeks ago, and it seems unlikely it will reopen. The planned closures will leave Cineworld with 123 cinemas across eastern Europe and Israel, where it hopes to keep venues open as those countries are benefitting from lighter coronavirus restrictions and local movies.
The premiere of the new 007 flick, No Time To Die, has been twice postponed, from April when cinemas were shuttered to 12 November, and now to April 2021, in a big blow to the cinema industry.
The company, the world’s second-biggest cinema operator, has written to Boris Johnson and the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, this weekend to warn them that the industry has become “unviable”.
Film studios are postponing blockbuster releases because audience numbers have been slow to recover since the Covid-19 outbreak. Other releases that have been pushed into 2021 include Disney’s Black Widow and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story.
Disney has pushed back all Star Wars and Avatar film releases scheduled between 2021 and 2027 by one year, which means there will be no Avatar 2 next year and no new Star Wars movie in 2022.
Cineworld’s theatres reopened in July following the coronavirus lockdown, but it flagged up doubts over its ability to survive a second lockdown in September when it reported a £1.3bn loss for the first half of the year.
It said then that admissions had been growing since it reopened 561 out of 778 sites worldwide, thanks in part to local films and the release of Christopher Nolan’s spy movie Tenet. But it warned that its financial future could be in doubt and that it would need to raise more money if authorities introduced further restrictions to combat the next wave of the virus.
Tenet has taken $280m at the box office internationally but only $41m in the US, where cinemas in the three main markets – New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco – remain closed.
The Cineworld Action Group, which represents employees around the world, said staff had not been consulted about the company’s plans. It is understood that news of the closures, which was first reported by the Sunday Times, leaked out before staff could be informed.
Cineworld declined to comment.
The Labour party warned that the closures would have a damaging impact across the UK, and criticised the government for not providing more support to the cinema sector.
“This is devastating news for Cineworld workers and cinema-goers, and will have a knock-on impact on towns and city centres,” said Jo Stevens MP, the shadow culture secretary.
“The cinema industry was viable before the crisis and will be afterwards, when the film industry recovers. The failure of ministers to recognise the value of shut-down businesses, which now includes many cinemas, means they are consigning thousands of workers to the scrap heap.”