After a summer of closures that threatened to cripple the cinema industry, Cineworld staff now face a bleak Christmas as the chain looks to shut down all its UK sites.
The final nail in the coffin came when the release of Daniel Craig’s new James Bond blockbuster No Time To Die was delayed due to coronavirus.
But Cineworld’s 5,500 workers were left fuming after hearing through social media they may lose their jobs until visitor numbers pick up again, possibly not until next year.
One said: “None of us have been told a single thing yet. So me and my work colleagues are sort of in panic mode right now, wondering what’s going to happen to our jobs, especially this close to Christmas.”
It is believed most staff will be laid off, and offered their jobs back when the firm’s 127 cinemas reopen.
The cull, expected to be announced this week, adds to a mounting jobs bloodbath caused by the pandemic.
And Cineworld’s plight is mirrored by many rivals, including independent movie houses. Cineworld, Britain’s biggest cinema chain, said: “We can confirm we are considering the temporary closure of our UK and US cinemas, but a final decision has not yet been reached.
“Once a decision has been made we will update all staff and customers as soon as we can.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden last week announced 42 independent cinemas which would get funding from a £30million recovery fund.
But the UK Cinema Association warns that may not be enough to save all sites.
Chief Phil Clapp said: “Without further help, we will see a significant number of cinemas close for good.”
Should the Government be doing more to save the creative industries?
0+ VOTES SO FAR
On Friday, MGM and Eon Productions said No Time To Die, which was due to hit UK screens on November 12, would be pushed back to April next year.
Mr Clapp added: “That is probably the most serious blow to UK cinema operators of a number of similar announcements over the past few weeks and will undoubtedly cause a significant number of cinemas to close again.”
Union Bectu, which represents cinema staff, urged filmmakers to think “carefully” about the impact postponed releases could have.
It added: “The delay in the release of the Bond film, along with the other delayed releases, has plunged cinema into crisis.”
Bectu head Philippa Childs said: “Whilst cinemas have been able to open since July, the stark reality is that without new releases it is unlikely that footfall will increase to a level that makes opening financially viable.”
Cineworld’s 127 UK sites account for a big chunk of the 840 cinemas across the country which, collectively, have more than 4,500 screens.
The chain has written to Boris Johnson and Mr Dowden warning the industry had become “unviable” because of the decision by film studios to postpone big-budget releases.
It employs 37,482 people across 787 venues in the US, Britain and central Europe.
UK cinema admissions have plummeted over 90% year-on-year since April, largely down to the national lockdown.
Many sites have reopened, but social-distancing restrictions have hit customer numbers – with a reduction in seating and staggered screenings. The other major downside is the lack of new movies to watch, after most releases were scrapped.
The perilous state of the sector was laid bare last month when Cineworld warned it would have to raise emergency cash if governments imposed tighter Covid-19 restrictions. Its share price has crashed more than 80%, and is expected to fall further today.
Disney’s live action remake of Mulan was one of the first casualties of the global health crisis. Originally planned for release in March, it is not due to come out until next July.
Marvel movie Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson, was first moved from this May to November, then put back until May next year.
Stephen Nolan’s Tenet was one of the few big cinema releases since the start of the lockdown, when it came out in July. Among other delayed films is Top Gun: Maverick, the follow-up to Tom Cruise’s 1986 original, which has been pushed back from this December to July.
The Everyman chain last week reported a half-year operating loss of more than £12million.
In July, the Government promised a package of more than £1.5billion to help the arts and culture industries.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “The Government is supporting cinemas through the VAT cut on tickets and concessions, business rates holiday and bounce-back loans.
“Independent cinemas are also eligible for a share of £30million from our unprecedented £1.5billion culture recovery fund, and funding has started to be allocated already.”