That came to an abrupt end when the pandemic hit. All cinema screens were forced to go dark from the middle of March as ministers sent the nation into lockdown.
Rebounding was never going to be easy, but there had been hope of a full-throated recovery. Admissions at boutique chain Everyman were up to 40pc of last year’s levels, since it finished reopening venues on Aug 21.
Since then, the script has not been written in cinema’s favour. Efforts to control further outbreaks of the virus by dialing up lockdown restrictions have spooked the movie studios.
A lacklustre box office performance from Christopher Nolan’s film Tenet – taking £231m globally – has compounded fears that successful movies could turn loss-making if they were released before the public was ready to come back in their droves.
These concerns prompted a triple-whammy, with No Time To Die, Wonder Woman: 1984 and Marvel Studios’ Black Widow all being rescheduled to later this year or next.
Such delays have created a cash-flow crisis for cinemas. A steady stream of blockbusters is needed to pay for film flops and the quieter periods throughout the year.
For Cineworld, the delay to No Time to Die was a tipping point. The FTSE 250 chain has temporarily shut down 663 cinemas worldwide. It will cost jobs, with 45,000 staff at risk, of which 5,500 are UK based.
Boss Mooky Greidinger said the decision was not “made lightly”, but dark clouds have been gathering for some time.
Cineworld is saddled with $8bn (£6bn) in debt from a £2.5bn swoop on US rival Regal two years ago. Even before the pandemic hit, pre-tax profits had fallen 39pc to $212m (£163m) for the year to December.