Regal, the second-largest theater chain in the United States, will suspend operations at all 536 of its locations as of Thursday, according to its parent company, Cineworld Group PLC. The chain’s Long Island locations include Ronkonkoma, Farmingdale, Westbury and a newly built venue in Lynbrook.
The announcement marks the latest dire news from the film industry, which has slowed to a near-standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cinemas nationwide shut their doors in mid-March, which in turn caused Hollywood to postpone many of their biggest releases until next year.
"It's a sound business decision that Regal made," said Phil Solomon, owner of the independent PJ Cinemas in Port Jefferson. His own theater had been doing well before the pandemic, he said, and he believes Hollywood is saving its biggest releases for the day theaters reopen. "I think if this virus is dealt with, then both the larger economy and the movie industry will come back. I don’t think it’s the end."
Although cinemas have been allowed to reopen in most states, they remain closed in New York — something Cineworld specifically cited as a reason for suspending operations. The move will impact approximately 40,000 employees across the country, according to the company.
"This is not a decision we made lightly," Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said in a statement. "As major U.S. markets, mainly New York, remained closed and without guidance on reopening timing, studios have been reluctant to release its pipeline of new films. In turn, without these new releases, Cineworld cannot provide customers in both the U.S. and 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."
Cineworld is also suspending operations at 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse cinemas in the United Kingdom.
Greidinger sent a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in mid-September, asking him to evaluate cinemas’ safety standards the same way he has with other indoor businesses. Churches, restaurants and fitness centers, for example, are all back in operation. Cuomo has not set a date or a timeline for theaters to reopen.
Regal’s closing could exacerbate the vicious circle that has trapped the film industry. With so many theaters closed, the Hollywood studios have pulled their product, which leaves theaters with virtually no movies to show. Warner Bros. tried to buck the trend by releasing Christopher Nolan’s "Tenet" on Sept. 3, but with roughly one-third of U.S. theaters still closed, the film pulled in only $9.4 million over the opening Labor Day weekend. Nolan’s big-budget thriller, which reportedly cost $200 million to make, has earned barely more than $45 million domestically. Its worldwide total has reached $307 million, according to Variety.
This past weekend, the 1993 Bette Midler comedy "Hocus Pocus," which was rereleased to theaters for the Halloween season, earned an estimated $1.9 million to become the No. 2 movie in the country, just behind "Tenet" at $2.7 million.