Last week, the James Bond franchise sequel No Time to Die became the latest blockbuster to have its theatrical release delayed to 2021. That may have been the last bit of hope that movie theaters had for staying open through the rest of the year, because Cineworld is seriously considering the temporary closure of all their Regal Cinemas theaters in the United States, as well as all of their cinemas in the United Kingdom.
The Sunday Times was the first to report news that Cineworld would be closing their cinemas in the United Kingdom as early as this week. The news was something that the thousands of employees had to learn about from the media, and as of Saturday, they hadn’t been notified of anything by the company. The employee action group made the following post to Twitter:
We have found out vital information about our jobs from the media throughout the pandemic. Workers have been left out of discussions that should’ve included our voices. However, in this case it goes beyond belief. To find out you may no longer have a job from the media is awful.
— Cineworld Action Group (@cineactiongroup) October 3, 2020
The company finally addressed the employees on Sunday, and they released an official statement on the matter, but only confirmed that closing all of their theaters was merely an option being considered and a final decision had yet to be made. Here’s Cineworld’s statement from their official Twitter account:
We can confirm we are considering the temporary closure of our U.K. and US cinemas, but a final decision has not yet been reached. Once a decision has been made we will update all staff and customers as soon as we can.
— Cineworld Cinemas (@cineworld) October 4, 2020
This is when news of Cineworld also considering the closure of all 543 of their Regal Cinemas locations in the United States was first revealed. That’s a quick response in the wake of the shift of No Time to Die, which had already been pushed back from its original release date intended earlier this year in April. And they probably won’t be the only theater chain to consider this option.
Now that No Time to Die has shifted to April 2021, following the delay of Black Widow to next May and Death on the Nile to December, the only major studio movies left on the theatrical release calendar for October and November are Pixar’s Soul and Universal’s The Croods 2. However, there have already been rumblings that Soul may follow in Mulan‘s footsteps by being released to Premier Access on Disney+. And if Regal Cinemas, the second largest theater chain in the United States, ends up temporarily closing again, that means over 7,000 screens will be gone, making a VOD release for Soul even more likely.
This is bad news for the movie theater industry. Owners were hoping that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet would help save them from more dire circumstances, but considering the dismal domestic box office all around in the United States, movie theaters were not getting the revenue they needed to justify reopening. In fact, it likely cost them more to reopen for these disappointing returns than it would have if they just stayed closed.
One has to wonder whether Black Widow or Wonder Woman 1984 might have ushered in a stronger return of movie theaters. But at the same time, the two largest markets in the United States still haven’t reopened their theaters. Plus, plenty of moviegoers across the United States still don’t feel safe about going back to movie theaters. So I don’t think it matters which movies came with the reopening of movie theaters, this was never going to work out as long as the coroavirus pandemic is still a threat, especially without a vaccine.
In the coming weeks, we’ll likely see other theater chains coming to the same decision as Cineworld. Though they haven’t made a final decision yet, it doesn’t make financial sense to stay open without any new movies to bring in revenue. What’s not clear is if theaters would attempt to reopen for the movies currently slated for release in December, which includes Wonder Woman 1984, Free Guy, Death on the Nile and Dune. There’s no guarantee that studios would stick to those release dates, so if theater chains hold out until then, only to have movies push back to 2021, then they’ll be in an ever deeper hole.
Surely theater owners are talking to studios to see where their head is at, but I wouldn’t be surprised of movie theaters end up closing for the rest of 2021. If that’s the case, then we could see the permanent closure of some of those movie theaters around the United States. That’s why filmmakers have the National Association of Theater Owners wrote a letter pleading to congress to do something to help save movie theaters. They’re not going to survive unless they get some help, and this could end up crippling theatrical distribution for years to come. Hopefully something can be done to save them.
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