Time to die? British cinemas fear ruin without the latest James Bond film | Film industry

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He’s best known for sweeping at the last minute to save the day – but James Bond’s final act could be the death knell for many UK cinemas.

News that the release of No Time to Die, the 25th film starring the Secret Agent, would be delayed again has left cinemas facing financial frustration due to the lack of other blockbuster films to come. .

In response to Cineworld, the world’s second-largest cinema chain, based in London, confirmed on Sunday that it plans to temporarily close all 128 stores in the UK and Ireland, including 26 Picturehouse theaters, potentially affecting more than 5,000 employees – many of whom discovered it on social media. . The same could happen in the United States, where there are 536 Regal theaters.

The channel had placed its hopes on the new Bond film, which is now slated for release in April 2021. Instead, its viability is at stake less than two months after its screens reopened.

According to industry sources, the movie industry is in a dead end. Movie studios are reluctant to release blockbuster movies until they are sure audiences will come back – and movie owners can’t prove they can attract audiences in the absence of blockbusters.

“The harsh reality is that without the new releases, attendance is unlikely to increase to a level that makes openness financially viable,” said Philippa Childs, head of the Bectu arts union. Cineworld said: “We can confirm that we are considering the temporary closure of our UK and US cinemas, but no final decision has yet been made. Once the decision is made, we will update all staff and customers as soon as possible. “

Cineworld controls around one in seven of the UK’s remaining cinemas. Closing as many sites would have a ripple effect on the other channels because the distribution of new versions would then become even more difficult to justify. Box office figures show UK cinemas took just £ 2million in ticket sales last weekend in September, down 80% from the same period last year.

Film studios were particularly scared by the returns of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, one of the few big-budget films released during the pandemic, which grossed just $ 45 million in the crucial US film market.

Given the likelihood that coronavirus cases will increase during the winter and months of social distancing reducing cinematic capabilities, many studios are choosing instead to sit on billions of dollars worth of movies shot before the pandemic until after ‘they feel they have a realistic chance of getting their money back.

Mark Millar, the Scottish comic book author who created the Kingsman and Kick-Ass films, said the mainstream film industry has become too dependent on making a handful of blockbuster movies with budgets of over $ 200 million rather than a variety of mainstream movies with $ 50 million. to $ 80 million in budgets.

“It requires a lot of tickets needed to break even so that no one can risk the loss,” said the writer, who now works for streaming giant Netflix. “A multitude of low budget films could have saved [the situation] but the studios do not manufacture any more, unfortunately.

However, convincing movie studios to accept substantial losses by releasing blockbusters soon could be a tough sell, especially since it would benefit movie chains that had been very profitable.

Although some studios have considered releasing their material via pay-per-view – with Disney’s live-action film Mulan being made available for £ 19.99 on its Disney + streaming service – the industry is still ready for blockbusters to get the most out of their money. large openings.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon at a Vue cinema in Islington, London, the relatively small number of patrons had few safety concerns. India Townsend, a 29-year-old lawyer who was scheduled to come watch Tenet, said she had been to Vue and the local Odeon several times since the outbreak: “It’s as safe as taking the plane, with social distancing and masks. ”

Eren Dogan, 21, client assistant at Vue, said: “Coming back to the cinema is a bit of normal life like going to the pub.” He estimates that 300 to 500 people come every day.

Even when audiences are ready to return to screens in droves, the promotional calendar accompanying each release will take time to intensify. The James Bond producers had already started rebooting the massive promotional schedule for a November launch, releasing the video for Billie Eilish’s theme song just 24 hours before deciding to delay the films’ release again.

Some independent cinemas have been forced to abandon, with Peckhamplex in south London temporarily closing six weeks after it reopens. John Reiss, the chairman of his operating company, said the public initially returned when it reopened in August, but has since been in steady decline: “For some, these are understandable concerns about the risks of Covid-19, but for the most part it’s about the lack of available movies. “

Oliver Meek, executive director of Rio Independent Cinema in East London, said: “If a giant like Cineworld falls, it shows how difficult it will be.” He said the delay in the latest Bond film would be keenly felt by multiplexes as well as independents. “Bond is still one of our biggest box office hits for the year. We are counting on a film like Bond to fill our auditorium for a few weeks and it replaces our other films.

If big exits continue to be pushed back, the Rio may have to close temporarily after reopening in late August, he warned. The Rio can seat 130 people, down from its usual capacity of 400 due to physical distance. But Meek recalled that the 111-year-old cinema survived the 1918 Spanish Flu when theaters were closed for two years. “The public always wants cinema; it lasted a long time.

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