Could the end credits be set to roll for the UK’s beleaguered cinema industry?
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in delays to a number of major blockbuster films, leaving cinema companies facing a dark future.
Movie theatres were forced to close their doors during worldwide lockdowns, and after reopening many film-goers continue to stay away.
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Industry bosses had hoped that one of the year’s biggest scheduled releases, James Bond: No Time to Die, would attract movie fans back into cinemas after hitting big screens in November. However, the next instalment of the 007 series - starring Daniel Craig in his final outing as the British super-spy - will now not be shown in cinemas until April next year.
No Time to Die’s makers - MGM, Universal and Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli - issued a statement earlier this month announcing that the release “will be delayed until 2 April 2021 in order to be seen by a worldwide theatrical audience”.
“We understand the delay will be disappointing to our fans,” they added - but viewers aren’t the only ones set to suffer.
Lights out for Cineworld
The delay to the release of the new Bond film has major implications for UK cinema operators.
On 4 October, Cineworld confirmed that it was suspending its operations in the UK and the US after “an absence of blockbuster movies to lure in customers” left the cinema chain struggling for survival, as the BBC reported at the time.
The closures put up to 45,000 jobs at risk, including 5,500 in the UK. The company did not give a date for reopening its 663 cinemas, which include 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse theatres across Britain.
Odeon and Vue also affected
A day after Cineworld’s announcement, Odeon announced that the opening hours for some of its cinemas in the UK and Ireland would be reduced to weekends only. The decision to open between Friday and Sunday will affect a quarter of Odeon cinemas.
And this week, Vue has said that it is also switching to a weekend-only model for around a quarter of its 87 sites.
A Vue spokesperson said: “We remain committed to ensuring that Vue has a long-term future, to protecting the livelihoods of our staff and keeping our doors open to ensure our cinemas continue to serve the communities they operate in.
“However, from next week, we will be temporarily reducing our opening days to Friday-Monday [inclusive] at 21 out of our 87 UK sites to ensure that our business is financially well-placed to withstand the uncertainty ahead.”
Admissions hit record low
The Vue spokesperson said the company’s “belief in the future of this industry is unshaken”.
However, UK cinema admissions are set to hit their “lowest level since records began almost a century ago”, The Guardian reports.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has wiped almost £1bn from box office sales, and attendance in 2020 will be about 75% down on the 176m admissions in 2019.
The UK box office is estimated to fall by a “staggering 73% this year to £334m”, the lowest total since 1992, the newspaper adds. In 2019, the UK box office raked in £1.25bn as global ticket sales set a record of $42bn (£32.1bn).
With no major films released since Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in August, the No Time To Die delay is “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for Cineworld, according to Robert Mitchell, director of theatrical insights at Gower Street Analytics.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Mitchell said: “A lot of films have been moving for some time now and ultimately, the cinemas need a pipeline of regular content to draw cinema goers in. Bond was really the one that UK exhibitors were really relying on more than any.”
“James Bond’s latest act could be the death knell for many British cinemas,” agrees The Guardian, which says that many venues are facing “financial obliteration because of the absence of other forthcoming blockbuster films”.
The industry is caught in a “Catch-22 situation”, the newspaper adds. Studios are “reluctant to release blockbuster films until they are sure that audiences will return”, but cinema owners are “unable to prove they can lure back audiences given the absence of blockbusters”.
Philippa Childs, head of arts union Bectu, said: “The stark reality is that without new releases it is unlikely that footfall will increase to a level that makes opening financially viable.”
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