LONDON — British cinema chain Cineworld is temporarily shutting its theaters in Britain and the United States as the coronavirus pandemic delays major new films like the latest James Bond spy blockbuster, it announced Monday.
From Thursday, it will suspend operation at 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse theatres in Britain, and 536 Regal theatres in the US, affecting 45,000 employees, a statement said.
Analysts described the impact of Covid-19, which sparked lockdowns worldwide, as a “horror movie” that plagues the entertainment sector, with cinemas already shut in key US markets including the cities of Los Angeles and New York.
Cineworld’s announcement sent its share price into a dramatic nosedive on Monday as investors headed to the exits.
‘Backdrop of Covid-19’
“In response to an increasingly challenging theatrical landscape and sustained key market closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Cineworld confirms that it will be temporarily suspending operations” in the two countries, the statement said.
“As major US markets, mainly New York, remained closed and without guidance on reopening timing, studios have been reluctant to release their pipeline of new films.
“In turn, without these new releases, Cineworld cannot provide customers in both the US and the UK — the company’s primary markets — with the breadth of strong commercial films necessary for them to consider coming back to theatres against the backdrop of Covid-19,” it added.
The announcement comes just days after the makers of the new James Bond movie — which has already had its release date pushed back owing to the pandemic — said it would not be released until April 2021.
“No Time to Die,” the 25th installment of the fictional British spy saga, sees Bond drawn out of retirement in Jamaica and is expected to be actor Daniel Craig’s last outing as 007.
US giant Disney has meanwhile postponed several of its biggest releases until next year, including eagerly anticipated movies from the record-grossing Marvel superhero series including “Black Widow” and “Eternals.”
Mega-budget movies that have made it to the big screen — such as sci-fi thriller “Tenet” from Warner Bros — have garnered disappointing box office returns so far this year.
With millions under lockdown from March until June and beyond, consumers have turned to online streaming instead from the likes of US giants Amazon and Netflix.
“This is not a decision we made lightly,” Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger added regarding the cinema closures.
“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 theatres and working constructively with regulators and industry bodies to restore public confidence in our industry,” the firm said in its statement.
“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.”
‘Bond is not the villain’
The news slammed Cineworld’s share price, which tumbled almost 60 percent in early morning London deals. It later stood at 26.93 pence, down almost 32 percent from the closing level on Friday.
Susannah Streeter, analyst at stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdown, said that coronavirus — and not James Bond — was the “villain” behind Monday’s grim news.
“Although the delay of the latest 007 blockbuster prompted the decision, Bond is not the villain in this piece,” she said.
“The spread of Covid-19 around the world has been a horror movie for the industry and the fresh wave of infections is the latest instalment in what has been a devastating story for cinema chains.”
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