ARIZONA NEWS

Company that owns Regal Gilbert closing all movie theaters for now

Oct 5, 2020, 3:00 PM | Updated: Oct 6, 2020, 8:47 am

Regal Irvine Spectrum (Twitter Photo/@RegalMovies)...

Regal Irvine Spectrum (Twitter Photo/@RegalMovies)

(Twitter Photo/@RegalMovies)

PHOENIX – The company that owns Regal Cinemas, which operates one movie theater in metro Phoenix, announced Monday it was dropping the curtain indefinitely at its 600-plus venues.

Cineworld Group Plc said 536 Regals in the U.S. and 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse theaters in the U.K. would close after Thursday’s screenings, impacting about 45,000 employees.

The second-largest theater company in the U.S. has only one Arizona facility. The 14-screen multiplex on Gilbert Road across from the Gilbert Civic Center has been showing a mixture of older favorites and the few new films released since COVID-19 started wreaking havoc on the industry.

Regal Gilbert and other Phoenix-area theaters were allowed reopen at 50% capacity at the end of August after Maricopa County reached COVID-19 benchmarks established by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“This is not a decision we made lightly,″ said Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger.

In the past few days, the already decimated 2020 release calendar lost another big film in the James Bond pic “No Time to Die.” It is at least partly due to the fact that one of the country’s biggest markets, New York, has not committed to a plan or a date for reopening cinemas in the state.

Cineworld has high debts and is, like the wider industry, struggling with the effects of the pandemic. The absence of the biggest North American markets and a consistent, solid release schedule from Hollywood studios have been devastating to their business.

“We never argued the fact that we needed to be closed until we saw that similar activities to us started to open,” Greidinger said, citing indoor dining. “We cannot be in a situation where we lose more cash when we are open than we lose when we are closed.”

Last week groups representing theater owners, movie studios and directors issued a plea to U.S. lawmakers to provide relief to ailing movie theaters. The letter, signed by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Patty Jenkins, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese, said that if the status quo continues, nearly 70% of small to mid-size movie theaters could be forced to close permanently.

Efforts to slow the spread of the virus resulted in closure of most cinemas for nearly six months. Many started tentatively reopening in late August, anticipating the release of money-making blockbusters, like Nolan’s “Tenet,” the Bond pic “No Time to Die” and Marvel’s “Black Widow.” Exhibitors also poured resources into enhanced safety and sanitization protocols, including limited capacity theaters, social distanced seating, cashless transactions and staggered showtimes.

But ticket sales for Warner Bros.’ “Tenet,” the first major film out of the gates, were not as strong in the U.S. as hoped, likely a combination of audience reluctance to return to theaters and the effects of big markets like New York and Los Angeles remaining closed. While some analysts stress that films need to play the “long game” at the box office in this current environment, studios responded by delaying most other major films that had been set for the fall and winter.

Some merely moved back 2020 openings as late as possible, like “Death on the Nile” (Dec. 18) and “Wonder Woman 1984,” which is now set for Christmas.

But others abandoned the year entirely, including Marvel’s “Black Widow,” Spielberg’s “West Side Story” and Universal’s “Candyman,” all of which were pushed to 2021 in recent weeks.

Although there are a handful of major films still set for 2020, like Pixar’s “Soul,” as well as a consistent calendar of independents and art house films, Friday’s announcement that “No Time To Die” was being delayed to 2021 came as a final blow.

Without the big releases, Cineworld said it can’t give customers “the breadth of strong commercial films necessary for them to consider coming back to theaters against the backdrop of COVID-19.”

Greidinger doesn’t regret reopening in August — at the time there was a solid release schedule and he believed that New York would have eased restrictions sooner.

Now there is, “Not much to do but to wait,” Greidinger said. And he hopes New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will give “the greenlight soon.”

The business, he said, needs a set blockbuster calendar extending six to eight weeks in the future in order to reopen. Greidinger hopes that that might be settled before Christmas, in time for “Wonder Woman 1984.”

“I will be the happiest man to open the cinemas for ‘Wonder Woman,'” he said. “But we will also need to look beyond ‘Wonder Woman’ to January and February.”

Warner Bros. said late Monday that its sci-fi pic “Dune” will now open in October 2021, instead of this December. The studio also pushed back “The Batman” to March 2022 and moved up its “Matrix” sequel to Dec. 2021.

AMC, North America’s largest movie theater chain, reiterated its commitment to stay open and cited a slew of upcoming new releases that it will be playing, including this weekend’s new films “The War With Grandpa,” with Robert De Niro, and “Yellow Rose.” Roughly 80% of its U.S. locations are currently open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Company that owns Regal Gilbert closing all movie theaters for now