UK cinema chains are waiting a long time for moviegoers to fall in love again | film industry

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JThe stratospheric performance of Tom Cruise Upper gun: maverick this summer raised hopes that a box office recovery could finally be in full swing after theaters were shut down by the pandemic. However, a subsequent blockbuster drought has left beleaguered theater owners praying for the Christmas release of mega-suites to Avatar and Black Panther pull them from the edge of the abyss.

The world’s second largest cinema chain, UK-based Cineworld, filed for bankruptcy protection in the US last week after it succumbed to nearly $9bn (£7.75bn) debts and rental debts. The company, which will continue to operate its 751 locations in 10 countries, blamed the pandemic and slow new releases for its failing admissions.

The London-listed company joins Vue, the UK’s third-biggest chain, forced to undergo major restructuring as shareholders in both have been wiped out.

The resounding successes of films such as the latest James Bond releases, Spider-Man and Top Gun proved false dawns to spark a lasting recovery in cinema.

Pandemic-induced production delays, jittery Hollywood studios continuing to postpone blockbuster release dates, and a broader lack of mid-budget fare — from rom-coms and buddy movies to dramas — will push the schedule back. a full recovery for theater owners until possible 2024, analysts say.

The dearth of new releases has upended the typical summer slate of box office hits. Last week, Spider-Man: No Coming Home topped the US box office – eight months after its worldwide release. In the UK, Dutch violinist Andre Rieu’s Maastricht Summer Concert live performance beat out Hollywood films including Idris Elba’s The beast and that of Brad Pitt Ball Form in first place at the end of last month.

So far this year the UK and Irish box office has hit £690m in ticket sales, nearly 30% lower than the same period in 2019 before the pandemic. While blockbuster films continue to draw crowds, the streaming revolution may have permanently reduced the number of mid-budget films – valuable commercial “fillers” for theaters between blockbusters – that end up on big screen.

“Of course, audiences yearn to return for huge spectacles, but whether original dramas and comedies have a place in theaters in the future remains to be seen,” says Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock. “Have these genres now been streamed for the most part?”

Faced with mostly empty cinemas until the next wave of releases later this year, the UK industry declared Saturday September 3 National Cinema Day, slashing prices to mid-1990s levels, to £3 per ticket.

Budget pricing, during the school holidays, unsurprisingly proved successful, driving 1.46 million admissions, around three times the number on a typical pre-pandemic Saturday. It was the highest day for admissions since 1997, when a similar £1 event drew 1.36 million.

Nevertheless, demographic trends in cinema have not – yet – returned to pre-pandemic norms. The over-55s remain reluctant and family travel has not rebounded, perhaps due to streaming services’ wide range of child-friendly content and lower viewing costs.

This year is set to end with a bang at the box office, with releases such as Avatar 2, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Dwayne Johnson as the DC Comics anti-hero black adam. But with many major films continuing to be pushed back to 2023 – from sequels Aquaman and Shazam to Creed III and Impossible mission seven – next summer is shaping up to be the real litmus test for the cinema recovery.

“We’ll see how far the industry has come, or not, when the supply chain actually catches up with perceived demand,” says Bock. “The gray area – that’s where we are right now.”

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