One of the largest movie theater chains in South Carolina will temporarily shut down for the second time this year, blaming a dearth of new releases during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cineworld Group, the British parent of U.S.-based Regal Cinemas, confirmed the decision Monday. The company cited "an increasingly challenging theatrical landscape" and health restrictions that remain in place in key markets.
All 536 Regal theaters in the U.S., including 15 that were reopened in South Carolina about two months ago, will be closed starting Thursday. At the same time, Cineworld will darken the screens it owns in the United Kingdom.
About 45,000 employees and contract workers will be affected by the retreat.
"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," the company said in a written statement. "In turn, without these new releases, Cineworld cannot provide customers in both the U.S. and the U.K. — 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."
The announcement followed Friday's decision by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to delay a new James Bond film for the second time. It was one of the last major releases remaining for 2020.
London-based Cineworld also is saddled with a heavy debt load, with some of it tied to its 2018 acquisition of Regal.
And like the rest of the entertainment industry, it is struggling to absorb the impact of the pandemic. Cineworld recently reported that its admission revenue plummeted 65 percent to $47.5 million for the first six months of the year.
Last week, groups representing owners, film 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 70 percent of small to mid-size movie theaters could be forced to close permanently without some form of aid.
Cineworld gave no guidance for when it will reopen its doors. Its stock price tumbled as much as 58 percent after Monday's announcement.
CEO Mooky Greidinger said the company "will continue to monitor the situation closely and will communicate any future plans to resume operations in these markets at the appropriate time, when key markets have more concrete guidance on their reopening status and, in turn, studios are able to bring their pipeline of major releases back to the big screen."
He added that it was "not a decision we made lightly, and 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 theatres and working constructively with regulators and industry bodies to restore public confidence in our industry."
Knoxville, Tenn.-based Regal operates 16 movie theaters in South Carolina, including three in the Charleston region and four around Columbia. One of them, in Spartanburg, did not reopen this summer because of local health restrictions, according to the company's website.