For almost a month now, cinemas in England have been allowed to open their doors to movie fans for the first time since before lockdown, and the UK’s top chains have taken different approaches to doing this.
On 4th July, Odeon reopened ten of its 122 UK sites and has gradually added more throughout the weeks since.
All 99 of Cineworld’s branches opened at the same time, welcoming customers from Friday, and on the same day Vue also began to restart business.
The studios behind blockbusters that had originally been scheduled to be released between March and now have been forced to adopt one of two options over lockdown: delay release until the masses can finally attend cinemas, or allow its films to be available for rent on streaming services.
Both will result in loss of money for filmmakers, with marketing materials having to be scrapped and remade for the former, and with a sacrifice of box office revenue for the latter.
No Time to Die was the first to dare to take the plunge in either direction. Before cinemas had been closed and even before we were promised lockdown would be a now-unimaginably-short three weeks, MGM announced that James Bond’s next adventure – scheduled for an April debut – would not be seen until November.
Kids’ flick Trolls World Tour went in the alternative direction. In the US and in Canada the sequel to 2016’s animation hit Trolls became one of the first films ever to be released simultaneously in both theatres and for home rental, a decision borne of course out of early Covid-19 fears. The decision proved successful with the Trolls World Tour breaking rental records, grossing tens of millions from home media revenue alone.
Forced delays have come at a bad time for X-Men spinoff New Mutants. Filmed a whole three years ago, the film was set to be screened from April 2018, before being pushed back 10 months to avoid a clash with Deadpool 2, before being shoved even further to not compete with Dark Phoenix. The sigh of relief exhaled by studio execs when a final date (3rd April 2020) was landed on was unknowingly premature. No one could have predicted a worldwide health pandemic that would see the first long-term closure of cinemas in Hollywood history.
With previously-signed contracts guaranteeing a theatre release (taking the chance for fans to at long last see the film from the comfort of their homes off the table), distributor Disney has afforded New Mutants the release date of 28th August – but still only with their “fingers crossed”.
Director Christopher Nolan’s most expensive offering yet, spy thriller Tenet, has faced a similar fate. Set for release on 17th July, it took a long time for a delay to be decreed, with hopes that since the date fell weeks after Covid-19’s ‘peak’ in most countries, there would be no need. The inevitable eventually presented itself, however, when it was realised that the ticket sales needed to claw back a significant enough portion of the movie’s budget would not be raked in from half-empty screens. Tenet has since repeatedly leapfrogged further into the future, springing from 31st July, to 12th August and then to 26th August.
With what should have been their huge summer attractions now seeping deeper into autumn, cinemas have had to find other films to engage audiences.
A typical Odeon timetable is filled with a mix of recent times’ biggest movie series and films that had been released just prior to lockdown. Disney Pixar’s Onward came out in early March but was only gifted a couple of weeks to bring in the box office bucks before Coronavirus took hold. With showings resuming where they left off just as the school summer holidays begin, the family film can now maybe make up for lost time.
Movie fans can experience the big screen magic for the relatively new award-winners A Star is Born, 1917, Parasite and Beauty and the Beast, or blasts-from-the-past such as The Empire Strikes Back. In preparation for its upcoming sequel, audiences can catch 1989 hit comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, or even rewatch the entire Harry Potter series.
At Cineworld, triple bills of the Dark Knight series, the original Star Wars series and the Back to the Future series will greet the public when its screens are switched back on this week.
But is this enough to actually incentivise a return to cinema-going norm? With it being a long way off before we will be able to watch a band in a music venue or a play in a theatre, there has to first be some sort of dissonance in customers’ minds that allows them to see the rows of filled seats of a cinema screen as a different – and safer – entity.