Up to 45,000 employees will be affected worldwide after Cineworld announced it will temporarily close all of its cinemas in the UK and US, including several across south London.
A total of 663 cinemas will close across the two countries from Thursday after the industry was rocked by plans by James Bond studios MGM and Universal to delay the release of the franchise’s latest film.
Cineworld said it would close 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse sites in the UK, confirming reports over the weekend, and sending shares down by as much as 57% as markets opened in London.
Labour shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens called it “devastating news for Cineworld workers and cinema goers”, and in London, the move will see 12 cinemas affected.
The Bexleyheath Cineworld on the Broadway, the O2 Greenwich site and the site on Wandsworth High Street will all temporarily close its doors from Thursday.
Picturehouse cinemas are also affected, meaning sites in Bromley, Clapham, Greenwich, West Norwood and Clapham will close.
The cinema giant did not specify how many jobs are at risk in the UK; however, on Sunday, the PA news agency understood that 5,500 would be hit.
Overall around 45,000 employees are affected in both countries, as 536 Regal theatres in the US will shut down because of the decision.
Chief executive Mooky Greidinger said: “This is not a decision we made lightly, and we did everything in our power to support safe and sustainable reopenings in all of our markets.”
On Friday, the release of Bond film No Time To Die was delayed for the second time because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The film was meant to hit cinemas in November, but fans will now have to wait until April 2 next year before seeing Daniel Craig’s final outing in the role.
The movie joins other potential hits such as Black Widow and Wonder Woman: 1984, which have been delayed by the pandemic.
Cineworld said on Monday: “As major US markets, mainly New York, remained closed and without guidance on reopening timing, studios have been reluctant to release their pipeline of new films.
“In turn, without these new releases, Cineworld cannot provide customers in both the US and the UK – the company’s primary markets – with the breadth of strong commercial films necessary for them to consider coming back to theatres against the backdrop of Covid-19.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said firms had received “a lot of support” after the news broke on Monday.
Asked if the Government will help the chain, she told Sky News: “One of the things Cineworld has cited is that cinemagoers want to be able to see new films coming through, as opposed to just seeing films of the past, and that’s something which the whole industry can work together to deploy.
“Cineworld will have been supported throughout the year through the furlough scheme through other ways the Government has been supporting businesses.
“Conscious that aspects of the main furlough scheme are coming to an end, but there is a successor scheme there.”
Mr Greidinger said Cineworld will wait until “the appropriate time” to talk about reopening.
Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Although the delay of the latest 007 blockbuster prompted the decision, Bond isn’t the villain in this piece.
The spread of Covid-19 around the world has been a horror movie for the industry and the fresh wave of infections is the latest instalment in what’s been a devastating story for cinema chains.”
She added: “The new jobs support scheme, which will subsidise wages of part-time workers, will provide no lifeline for the 5,500 Cineworld UK employees who will lose their jobs this week and many others across the industry are facing a bleak winter on jobseekers benefit, while they begin the difficult search for new positions in the run-up to Christmas.”
Labour MP Jo Stevens said: “This is devastating news for Cineworld workers and cinema goers, and will have a knock-on impact on towns and city centres.
“The cinema industry was viable before the crisis and will be afterwards, when the film industry recovers.
“The failure of ministers to recognise the value of shut-down businesses, which now includes many cinemas, means they are consigning thousands of workers to the scrap heap.”
Vue chief executive Tim Richards told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that his company has taken a hit by delays from the studios.
“Our problem right now is we have no movies. This was a big blow for us. We’re likely going to make it through, I’m concerned about the independents and the small regional operators right now that are going to really struggle and when they close they may not reopen,” he said.
“We’ve tried to retain all of our jobs for the 5,500 employees we have in the UK and that’s still our goal. We’re going to try and find a way through this. This was an industry that was not broken.”