Britain’s two biggest cinema chains are taking measures to reduces their losses resulting from a lack of big releases to attract audiences during the pandemic.
Cineworld, has confirmed that it’s closing all of its branches in the UK and most in the US from this Thursday, because of the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Odeon will be reducing the hours of some of its sites, opening only at weekends.
The decisions came days after the release of the next Bond film, No Time To Die, was delayed until April 2021. After Christopher Nolan’s Tenet failed to restore confidence in global cinema audiences, the industry was looking to Bond’s November release as a much-needed tonic, but with that now on hold – for a second time – Cineworld has acknowledged that it would struggle to attract big enough audiences for the business to be viable.
About five and a half thousand Cineworld jobs are on the line in the UK alone; it’s understood that the chain will make staff redundant and offer them incentives to return when the cinemas are able to reopen, which isn’t expected to be until next year. Odeon employs a similar number in the UK.
As a sign of the catalogue of difficulties posed to the industry by Covid restrictions around the world, Cineworld – which has more than 120 cinemas in the UK and more than 500 under its Regal brand in the US – had previously gone head-to-head with one of the major studios, Universal, over its decision to launch films online during the pandemic. Odeon had also initially expressed its opposition to Universal’s proposal.
In a statement, Cineworld said, “We are especially grateful for and proud of the hard work our employees put in to adapt our theatres to the new protocols and cannot underscore enough how difficult this decision was. Cineworld will continue to monitor the situation closely and will communicate any future plans to resume operations in these markets at the appropriate time, when key markets have more concrete guidance on their reopening status and, in turn, studios are able to bring their pipeline of major releases back to the big screen.”
Other cinemas could now follow, and with fewer big screens available to screen upcoming blockbusters, such as Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman 1984 and Disney/Pixar’s Soul, their releases are now more likely to be delayed – or moved online, as Disney previously did with Mulan – giving remaining cinemas even fewer titles to attract audiences. While Tenet was seen by many as the film that might have saved cinema, No Time To Die could now be seen at the film that killed it – or at least put it into hibernation.
Only last week, the BFI announced the first 42 independent cinemas to benefit from money from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund. If the independent sector can weather the current storm, it could be that with public money and a continuing supply of smaller, lower budget films, it could use the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to turn cinema-going from its reliance on blockbusters at out-of-town multiplex cinemas to art-house films at inner-city theatres.
(Earlier article updated with confirmation of Cineworld closure and Odeon weekend opening)