Making good on rumors swirling all weekend, Cineworld confirmed Monday morning that the biggest movie chain in the UK, and second biggest in the U.S., will be closing its doors for an indefinite amount of time in lieu of the news Friday that No Time to Die was leaving November in favor of next April. Cineworld announced it would be closing all 127 locations in the UK, and 536 Regal Cinemas, beginning on Thursday.
Additionally, the company released an update that said 45,000 employees will be affected by this “temporary suspension” of theatrical exhibition services.
The news is not entirely surprising, although it is wholly disheartening. Despite cinemas being relatively open with social distancing in parts of the UK, the largest moviegoing markets in the U.S., including Los Angeles and New York City, remain closed. And despite the efforts of one particular studio to jumpstart movegoing again with a little film called Tenet, the excitement of going to the cinema has failed to materialize for millions of people during a pandemic.
In its statement, Cineworld cited studios’ choosing to not “release their pipeline of new films” as the chief reason that movie exhibition has become untenable in the current market. And indeed, No Time to Die’s delay marks the nearly final would-be 2020 blockbuster to abandon the year, with F9, A Quiet Place Part II, and Black Widow all vacating the calendar year while Disney’s Mulan became the first major studio tentpole released on PVOD (premium video on demand).
However, Warner Bros. did gamble that there could be a renewed interest in going to movie theaters while wearing a mask and social distancing. Hence the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in European, Asian, and Australian cinemas at the end of August, and in select U.S. theaters at the beginning of September. But while that film has managed to gross a nine-figured $300 million worldwide, only a meager $42 million of that is from the U.S.
And when the last two Nolan movies before Tenet both grossed over $500 million worldwide, with his most recent science fiction film, Interstellar, grossing about $700 million, it is impossible to view Tenet’s muted reception as anything but a disappointment. Yet that is fairly rosy when compared to Disney dropping The New Mutants into the abyss of ignominy during the pandemic; the final Fox-produced superhero movie opened to just $7 million in the U.S., and has only grossed $41 million worldwide.
WB was clearly alarmed by the numbers, as it immediately moved Wonder Woman 1984 from Oct. 2 to a Christmas Day release, though it remains unclear how December will be any better a time for moviegoing than October given the current rising rates of COVID-19 infections. It also places Wonder Woman 1984 in direct competition with the only other major live-action blockbuster left on the 2020 calendar, WB’s own Dune. Many have thus speculated one or both release dates are tenuous at best.
Meanwhile the last major studio tentpole left in 2020 is Disney’s latest Pixar movie, Soul. Co-directed by Pete Docter of Up and Inside Out fame, it’s one of Pixar’s most intriguing projects in the last few years and has maintained its Thanksgiving-timed release date, even as Disney moved Black Widow and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake out of 2020. It has thus left many speculating the film will wind up on Disney+ as a PVOD offering, similar to Mulan.
Either way, it is likely cold comfort for movie theater owners who are part of the Regal and Cineworld umbrella; they’ll be indefinitely closed, and it is unclear if they’ll be open for the next major blockbuster, be it Wonder Woman at Christmas or Sony’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Morbius in March. But then movie exhibitors already reopened early once in the midst of the pandemic for Tenet…