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Cineworld to Close U.K. and U.S. Sites Amid James Bond Delay

Thomas Seal and Mark Burton
·3 mins read

(Bloomberg) --

Cineworld Group Plc is set to shutter its theaters in the U.K. and the U.S. as the coronavirus continues to heap pressure on the film industry, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The move comes after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on Friday canceled the November debut of the new James Bond movie, pulling the plug on one of the few big films left on the 2020 release calendar. In the U.S., Cineworld’s Regal Entertainment Group is likely to close all its operations while current circumstances persist, the person said. Details of Regal’s plans were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The London-listed group could suspend operations at its U.K. venues as soon as this week and is writing to Prime Minister Boris Johnson this weekend to warn that delays to blockbuster releases have made the industry unviable, the person said, confirming details reported earlier by the Sunday Times.

The virus has slammed consumer confidence with the U.K. economy the hardest hit in Europe, contracting more than 20% in the first half. With infections surging again after pubs, restaurants and cinemas reopened over the summer, the threat of renewed restrictions has dashed hopes for a quick rebound.

Cineworld’s plan to close its U.S. locations isn’t definite and a final decision isn’t likely to be made until Monday or Tuesday, the person said. The U.K. closures could be announced as soon as Monday in a move that could put as many as 5,500 jobs at risk, he said.

With MGM’s “No Time to Die” delayed for a second time and now scheduled for release in April, movie-theater operators are facing up to a grim reality. Before MGM’s decision, numerous other major pictures had been pushed back, leaving cinemas in an awkward place: allowed to operate, but with no movies to show.

Theater bosses had been hoping that the industry’s prospects would be starting to turn around by now, with AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and others expressing confidence that the release of Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.’s “Tenet” and other blockbusters would help to boost ticket sales. In the four weeks since its U.S. release on Sept. 3, the $200 million production generated just a little over $40 million. To date, the film has made $307 million in global box office sales, a spokeswoman for Warner Bros said by email.

Fear of catching Covid-19, social-distancing rules, and a continued shutdown in New York and Los Angeles are all keeping fans away. The industry received another blow as Disney made the surprise announcement that it would debut “Mulan” on its own streaming service, while Warner Bros. decided to push back the planned October release of “Wonder Woman 1984” to Christmas Day.

Such releases could slip again if consumers continue to stay away from theaters or reopenings get pushed back. And even with their screens open, exhibitors will continue to lose money if too many seats go unsold.

(Adds comment from Warner Bros. in seventh paragraph.)

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