SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP/KPIX) – In the latest blow to the beleaguered film industry, the second-largest movie theater chain in the U.S. is temporarily shuttering its locations Thursday due to a lack of blockbusters on the calendar and major domestic markets like California and New York remaining closed.

Cineworld Group Plc said Monday that it would close 536 Regal cinemas in the U.S. and 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse venues in the U.K. this week, affecting some 45,000 employees.

There are more than 80 Regal cinemas in California, including Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco and several other Bay Area cities, still “temporarily closed’ due to the pandemic, according to the website.

“This is not a decision we made lightly,″ said Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger.

Movie theaters in San Francisco were getting ready to raise their curtains on Wednesday but now, Regal’s screens will continue to sit in the dark after word of their indefinite closure due to the pandemic.

Parent company, Cineworld says all locations will close their doors starting on Thursday. In San Francisco, Regal Cinemas never had a chance to open and moviegoers are left wondering how this drama will end.

The latest James Bond film may have delivered final blow. Cineworld announced the plan to suspend all of its operations at 536 locations in the United States after the release of’ No Time to Die’ was moved from Thanksgiving to next Easter as many theaters remain closed due to the pandemic.

Mooky Greidinger, the CEO of Cineworld, said in a statement, “The prolonged closures have had a detrimental impact on the release slate for the rest of the year. As such, it is simply impossible to continue operations in our primary markets.”

Many moviegoers were not surprised the second largest theater chain in the US has made this decision.

“We’re probably not going to the movies too much until there’s a vaccine. It’s just safer to watch movies at home anyway,” said Bob Javinsky.

Regal also points to the inability to open in major markets such as New York.

San Francisco will allow theaters to reopen Wednesday, but the 12-screen, 1800-capacity Regal Theater at Stonestown remains under construction. While moviegoers say they have adjusted to watching films at home, they miss a night out at the movies.

“I love the theater, I think there is a part of the theater experience that is lost at home,” says Molly Rowe. “Sitting in the dark with other people. I think that’s part of the movie going experience for myself.”

“I’ve always enjoyed going to the movies as a kid and I will always enjoy that experience,” adds Javinsky.

Regal emphasizes this is a temporary closure and it will continue to monitor the situation of the reopening status and when studios will release blockbusters back to the big screen.

Cineworld has high debts and is, like the wider industry, struggling with the effects of the pandemic. The absence of the biggest North American markets and a consistent, solid release schedule from Hollywood studios have been devastating to their business.

“We never argued the fact that we needed to be closed until we saw that similar activities to us started to open,” Greidinger said, citing indoor dining. “We cannot be in a situation where we lose more cash when we are open than we lose when we are closed.”

Last week groups representing theater owners, movie studios and directors issued a plea to U.S. lawmakers to provide relief to ailing movie theaters. The letter, signed by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Patty Jenkins, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese, said that if the status quo continues, nearly 70% of small to mid-size movie theaters could be forced to close permanently.

Efforts to slow the spread of the virus resulted in closure of most cinemas for nearly six months. Many started tentatively reopening in late August, anticipating the release of money-making blockbusters, like Nolan’s “Tenet,” the Bond pic “No Time to Die” and Marvel’s “Black Widow.” Exhibitors also poured resources into enhanced safety and sanitization protocols, including limited capacity theaters, social distanced seating, cashless transactions and staggered showtimes.

But ticket sales for Warner Bros.’ “Tenet,” the first major film out of the gates, were not as strong in the U.S. as hoped, likely a combination of audience reluctance to return to theaters and the effects of big markets like New York and Los Angeles remaining closed. While some analysts stress that films need to play the “long game” at the box office in this current environment, studios responded by delaying most other major films that had been set for the fall and winter.

Some merely moved back 2020 openings as late as possible, like “Death on the Nile” (Dec. 18) and “Wonder Woman 1984,” which is now set for Christmas.

But others abandoned the year entirely, including Marvel’s “Black Widow,” Spielberg’s “West Side Story” and Universal’s “Candyman,” all of which were pushed to 2021 in recent weeks.

Although there are a handful of major films still set for 2020, like Pixar’s “Soul,” as well as a consistent calendar of independents and art house films, Friday’s announcement that “No Time To Die” was being delayed to 2021 came as a final blow.

Without the big releases, Cineworld said it can’t give customers “the breadth of strong commercial films necessary for them to consider coming back to theaters against the backdrop of COVID-19.”

“We did everything in our power to support safe and sustainable reopenings in all of our markets — including meeting, and often exceeding, local health and safety guidelines in our theaters and working constructively with regulators and industry bodies to restore public confidence in our industry,″ said Greidinger. “We cannot be in the situation where every week we are getting another delay and another delay.”

Cineworld shares fell as low as 15.64 pounds in London and were down 31% at 27.41 in morning trading.

Greidinger doesn’t regret reopening in August — at the time there was a solid release schedule and he believed that New York would have eased restrictions sooner.

Now there is, “Not much to do but to wait,” Greidinger said. And he hopes New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will give “the greenlight soon.”

The business, he said, needs a set blockbuster calendar extending six to eight weeks in the future in order to reopen. Greidinger hopes that that might be settled before Christmas, in time for “Wonder Woman 1984.”

“I will be the happiest man to open the cinemas for ‘Wonder Woman,” he said. “But we will also need to look beyond ‘Wonder Woman’ to January and February.

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