The battered cinema industry was plunged further into crisis as Cineworld cut up to 45,000 jobs and mothballed all its UK and US sites – prompting rivals to warn a swathe of screens across Britain could go dark forever.
Cineworld – the biggest cinema chain in the UK and second largest in the world – will close 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse theatres in the UK from this Thursday after the latest James Bond blockbuster was delayed until next year. It will also shut 536 Regal theatres in the US.
Meanwhile Odeon unveiled plans to cut back opening hours at screens across Britain and the boss of Vue warned that all options are on the table in a battle to save cash amid growing desperation over winter demand.
Cineworld intends to reopen the venues after the worst of Covid has passed, but did not give a date on when this might happen.
An estimated 5,500 jobs are at risk in the UK. In a memo to staff, Cineworld bosses said that a new subsidy scheme for part-time workers is not enough to prevent mass lay-offs.
Cineworld’s shares crashed as much as 60pc following the announcement and later closed down 36pc, or 14.3p, at 25.2p.
The decision comes after film studio MGM once again delayed the release of the upcoming James Bond film No Time To Die, pushing the date back from November to next year.
Experts warned that further cinema chains are likely to follow Cineworld’s lead as a second wave of Covid hits release schedules. It is feared many sites could close forever.
Nigel Parson, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity, said more film slate postponements and cinema closures are now inevitable.
Tim Richards, chief executive of Vue, said that his firm will try to avoid redundancies but cannot rule out closures and job losses.
He said: “We have tried to keep all of our staff on board and we continue to do our best to keep everything open.
“But right now we are being forced to look at all possible options available to us, so we have not hit a landing yet and we haven’t discounted anything yet.”