This morning, Sunday 4th October 2020, it was revealed in The Sunday Times and corroborated by Variety that film exhibition giants Cineworld will be closing all 128 of its cinemas across the UK & Ireland this coming week, with all 543 of their Regal branded movie theaters in the United States also set to close.
The front page of tomorrow’s Times is announcing that Cineworld is planning to close all of its cinemas across the country as soon as this week putting all of our jobs at immediate risk. There has been no consultation with staff whatsoever. pic.twitter.com/16fKxGcNnG
— Cineworld Action Group (@cineactiongroup) October 3, 2020
The news comes only two days after it was revealed, also by Variety, that new James Bond movie No Time To Die will be delayed from its intended November release to early April 2021, following every major Disney film (including Marvel’s Black Widow) out of 2020 and leaving the theatrical landscape without a major release until Pixar’s Soul – which is also expected to be moved, possibly even to Disney Plus – at the end of November, with Warner Bros’ Dune and Wonder Woman 1984 (set for release at Christmas) being the only other major releases still set for 2020.
The closures are expected to put 5,500 people out work in the UK & Ireland.
Cineworld, which operates as one of the UK & Ireland’s leading cinema chains, and also owns pseudo-independent chain Picturehouse, has as of writing failed to notify any of its staff members of the coming shutdowns.
The exhibition giants re-opened their doors on 31st July after a four month shutdown in the UK and re-opened its Regal theaters at the end of August in the United States, both as reactions to the release of Christopher Nolan action-spy-thriller Tenet, thus far 2020’s only major blockbuster release. Tenet has since made $284.9million worldwide from a budget of around $200million, despite an expected return of $700million-plus in an ordinary year, and has limped to a $41.2million take in its primary market of North America, hampered somewhat by ongoing shutdowns in the US’s two most major regional markets, New York and Los Angeles.
Tenet was seen as the litmus test for studios regarding the viability of profiting from any of their major releases, and has ultimately told the tale of audiences remaining skeptical to return to cinemas during one of the most volatile years on record for public health and thus the industry of film exhibition.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently put into law a new Rule of Six, which outlaws any meetings of six or more persons, and has suggested that this could be upheld until March owing to a recent rise in Coronavirus cases and an expected increase to sufferers of the virus in the coming winter months. As of writing, the UK government has remained steadfast in rejecting appeals for financial aid from many of the country’s arts sectors, and their furlough scheme – introduced in March to ensure employers pay staff despite closures – comes to an end on October 31st, and may not cover cinema staffers in any case owing to what will likely be seen as a “voluntary” shutdown of the Cineworld cinemas in question.
The Cineworld Action Group (@cineactiongroup) are currently calling for clarity regarding their futures as employees in what has proven to be an unannounced moment with potentially life changing consequences. Formed in March, the Cineworld Action Group initially fought Cineworld’s temporary decision to undergo mass staff redundancies in the wake of the Coronavirus shutdowns – a decision Cineworld would come to reverse following pressure from the CAG and government officials, as well as the government’s announcement of the furlough scheme. At the time, staff members employed for less than 18 months were going to be retained on 0% pay, while employees of 3 years or more were going to be retained on 40% pay, with every staff member employed for between 18 months and 3 years to be laid off entirely. The Cineworld Action Group will be hoping for a similar result in the coming week, though the circumstances surrounding this latest blow will likely make this more difficult without the direct intervention of the UK government.
While this story has yet to fully develop, many are seeing it as the most major news for film exhibitors since the pandemic forced a global lockdown of the industry in March. Not only do these closures affect Cineworld and their thousands of employees on either side of the Atlantic, but the news of these imminent closures is very much a warning siren for the industry at large and the exhibition of the art form from here on out.