Just two months after a highly publicized reopening of its movie theater chain in the U.S. and abroad, the country’s second largest theater chain, Regal, is closing down once again due to the struggles of operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regal locations in the U.S. had only been open since August, but disappointing movie openings and studio decisions since that point have severely limited the films available for the chain’s more than 570 U.S. locations to exhibit.
Cineworld Group is the parent company of Regal, and is the second-largest theater chain in the world, after AMC. It’s also closing its 127 theater locations in the U.K., following the announcement of more major film release postponements, including MGM’s James Bond feature No Time to Die. That film was previously postponed from April to November, and has now been pushed to April of 2021, along with the likes of Marvel’s Black Widow. And with fewer and fewer films remaining on the schedule, execs at Regal simply couldn’t justify remaining open.
“We are like a grocery shop that doesn’t have vegetables, fruit, meat,” said Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger to the Wall Street Journal. “We cannot operate for a long time without a product.”
Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi head turner Tenet had been intended to function as the theater industry’s big “phoenix rising from the ashes” moment, but in the U.S. the box office response to the film was sadly underwhelming, indicating that potential audience members were harder to convince about the safety of theaters than anticipated. Disney responded by making Mulan into a premium, $30 rental via Disney Plus, while other studios like Warner Bros. got cold feet on future summer releases, bumping films like Wonder Woman 1984 to December. It remains to be seen whether WB will actually go through with that date, after the disappointment of Tenet.
Theaters in some of the biggest and most important U.S. film markets, meanwhile, have never reopened at all. That includes New York and L.A., where theaters have been excluded from phased openings that have included other entertainment venues like restaurants or bowling alleys.
The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has in the meantime been lobbying lawmakers directly, effectively seeking financial relief or a bailout for the movie theater industry, which has obviously been devastated by the pandemic like few other entertainment industries. In a Sept. 30 letter, NATO made the following grim prediction: “If the status quo continues, 69% of small and midsize movie theater companies will be forced to file for bankruptcy or to close permanently.”