On October 3, MGM Universal announced that the premiere of No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond movie, was being delayed again. It was originally scheduled to open in April, but was postponed several times. Until last week, theaters were expecting to get it in November, but the premiere has now been pushed back to April 2, 2021 — a full year after the original date.
This was the last straw for Cineworld, the parent company of Regal Theaters. Like other exhibitors, they had been counting on the Bond film to help them move back toward profitability. Several other tentpole movies have been delayed (Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984), failed (Tenet, Mulan), or gone directly to streaming (Hamilton, Greyhound). No Time to Die was pretty much their last hope. With that film delayed until next year, Cineworld has given up. They announced on October 4 that all 543 Regal theaters in the U.S. will be closed next week. Cineworld says this is temporary, but I suspect it may be permanent.
The writing has been on the wall for movie theaters for quite some time. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, their revenues had been declining. The advent of large, high-resolution TVs, home theater sound systems, and streaming services has prompted a lot of people to watch their movies at home. And the pandemic pulled the rug out from under the theater chains. Their theaters were shut down for months, and when they finally reopened, it was at a reduced capacity that makes it impossible to turn a profit.
To make matters worse, one of the other safety measures is to require all customers to wear a mask at all times (except when eating or drinking). That’s a deal-killer for me, because a mask makes my glasses fog up. If I can’t see the movie, what is the point of being there? And I suspect I’m not alone in feeling that way.
That was before No Time to Die was delayed to next year. I would like to believe I’m wrong, but I think the theater chains are doomed. I don’t see how they can recover from this.
After seven months, those of us who used to go to movie theaters have been broken of that habit. We have learned that we don’t really need theaters, and the studios are starting to think that they don’t need them either, with so many people using streaming services. The 007 film title seems ironic now, because the movie theaters do have time to die — and their time may be at hand.
Update: Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Dune, which was scheduled for release on December 18, has been delayed to October 1, 2021.