Bond stirred, and Regal was shaken.
Cineworld Group — which owns and operates Regal Cinemas, the 2nd largest theater chain in North America beyond AMC Theatres — has announced that they will be closing all of their multiplexes in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. indefinitely. This move occurs after having reopened less than two months ago in mid-August, following an initial months-long shutdown that began in late March.
In total, over 45,000 jobs will be affected. The new closings will begin on Friday, October 9.
In response to such a major shift in the theatrical marketplace, cinema-related stocks plummeted on Monday. Cineworld’s value plunged 40% in early trading while competitors AMC Theatres and Cinemark also fell, respectively, 11% and 13%. Both of those chains (the 1st and 3rd biggest in North America) currently remain open for business, with Cinemark confirming in an official statement that they would indeed continue to remain open during the pandemic.
This shocking (though not surprising) move by Cineworld/Regal comes in the wake of the James Bond thriller No Time To Die being delayed from November 2020 to April 2021. Already struggling financially with a dearth of new movies to showcase, Cineworld made the understandable decision that long-term financial viability isn’t possible by staying open and bleeding money for the final quarter of 2020.
While no reopening date was given, most analysts expect the soonest that the chain would consider relaunching their multiplexes would be 2021 unless scheduled 2020 tentpoles like Soul, Dune, and Wonder Woman 1984 actually stick to their Thanksgiving and Holiday Season release dates (a big “if” at this point, to be sure).
In a statement, Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said:
- “This is not a decision we made lightly, and we did everything in our power to support safe and sustainable re-openings 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.”
Another unnamed source within Cineworld put it even more bluntly — and accurately — to Variety:
- “We’ve been at the mercy of distribution and we now have to make a stand. The distributors played us. We’ve had the cinemas open, we’ve done our very best, and 10 minutes before a film is released they pull it. Now we have to say, ‘Until you put films on the calendar, and we know they’ll stay, we can’t carry on.’”
The straw that broke the industry’s back is that theaters in New York and Los Angeles (the two biggest North American markets) remain closed and have no predictable timeline for reopening. That factor is what ultimately led to Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet underperforming as significantly as it has, which then led to the ripple effect of numerous movie delays that peaked with No Time To Die shifting to next spring.
John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, put the blame for all of this squarely at the feet of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. In a statement that praised Cuomo’s overall efforts to curb COVID-19 spread, Fithian directly attacked the New York chief executive’s seeming bias against theaters compared to other public businesses. While gyms, churches, and indoor dining are all allowed to be open and operate, movie theaters are not.
Adding further confusion to that disparity, COVID contact-tracing has been cited far more as coming from gyms, churches, and indoor theaters than it has from movie theaters (which remain low and comparatively safe).
Major multiplexes aren’t the only businesses facing life-threatening conditions; independent theater owners are also in desperate need of help.
As much as Fithian has a case to make against Cuomo, an argument could be made that he’s failed in his own position as the national head of Theatre Owners.
To the extent that many (even most) theaters meet and exceed guidelines recommended by local, state, and federal health officials, Fithian has not led the kind of national marketing campaign effort needed to make these positive data points and effective protocols known.
It all exists, too, in the form known as CinemaSafe (visit the website here) — complete with a “Seal of Approval” for patrons to look for — but who actually knows about CinemaSafe? I bet you didn’t until right now.
All that to say, there’s plenty of blame to go around. At this point, it will be a miracle if AMC and Cinemark remain open for the rest of 2020, or if studios will stick to the few major releases that they still have slated for the late November and December.
Assuming that miracle doesn’t come through, one will definitely be needed in 2021 — namely for the federal government to supplement theaters with a financial lifeline so that they can even be around to reopen when the time finally comes.