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New James Bond film is delayed until 2021 meaning more misery for cinemas

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THE NEXT big Hollywood movie release, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s (MGM)  James Bond flick No Time to Die is being delayed until next year, a result of the woeful economics that studios are facing because of the pandemic.

No Time to Die, starring Daniel Craig, will now be released on April 2, the studio said, confirming an earlier report Friday by Bloomberg News. It had already been pushed back to Nov. 20 from April of this year, after the pandemic forced movie theaters across the world to close.

“We understand the delay will be disappointing to our fans but we now look forward to sharing No Time To Die next year,” MGM said in a statement.

Hollywood has a growing inventory of big movies sitting on the shelf because of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019). The only major film that’s been released in the US since the pandemic started, Warner Bros.’s Tenet, has attracted a small domestic audience — partly because theaters in New York and Los Angeles are closed. Cinemas also have to cap ticket sales to adhere to social-distancing requirements.

The Bond film, which cost about $250 million to make, will now compete with other big movies for audience attention in 2021. Universal’s F9, part of the Fast & the Furious franchise, was also moved to a new date on Friday. That film, scheduled to come out on the same day as No Time to Die, will now debut May 28. Universal is distributing both movies.

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The change means theaters will have no major movies for adults until the end of the year, when Warner Bros. is scheduled to release sci-fi thriller Dune and DC Comics installment Wonder Woman 1984.

There are still several family-oriented films expected to come out in November and December, starting with Walt Disney Co.’s Soul on Nov. 20. Universal Pictures also plans to release The Croods: A New Age, on Nov. 25, though that film may move to on-demand platforms soon after its theatrical debut. Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp., signed an agreement with AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. shortening the exclusive runs movies get in theaters.

Additionally, analysts have warned that films could still be delayed or moved to streaming platforms, due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.

MORE MISERY FOR MOVIE THEATERS
The bad news is flowing without relent in the film industry, where a major theater chain is poised to close movie houses in the US and UK.

Cineworld Group Plc is within days of shuttering its UK theaters and the operations of its Regal Entertainment Group in the US, a person familiar with the matter said Sunday.  “It’s turned into a nightmare for the theatrical industry, especially cinemas, many of which are on the brink of shuttering once again,” said Jeff Bock, senior media analyst for Exhibitor Relations Co. “The only thing worse than opening theaters before the marketplace was ready, was opening them and then closing again.”

London-listed Cineworld could suspend operations at its UK venues — at a cost of 5,500 jobs —  as soon as this week, and executives were writing to Prime Minister Boris Johnson this weekend to warn that delays to blockbuster releases have made the industry unviable, the person said. Cineworld’s plan to close its US locations isn’t definite and a final decision isn’t likely to be made until Monday or Tuesday.

Fear of catching COVID-19, social-distancing rules, and a continued shutdown in New York and Los Angeles are all keeping fans away. The grim reality for theaters prompted S&P Global Ratings to cut its rating for AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. last week, saying that a default may be looming.

“Cinemas and audiences are presently at the mercy of natural and political forces largely beyond their control,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Media LLC.

With no new big films to show, smaller exhibitors are cutting hours to reduce costs. In the final weekend of September, the number of theaters operating in North America fell by about 100, and about 56% of all North American theaters are currently open, according to researcher Comscore, Inc. While AMC, the largest operator, says it expects to be 80% reopened by mid-month, any increase could be offset by the possible closures of Cineworld’s US sites.

But with few fans willing to go to the theaters, Hollywood studios are unwilling to release their big 2020 films. Before MGM’s decision, numerous other major pictures — including Walt Disney Co.’s Black Widow — had been pushed back, leaving cinemas in an awkward place: allowed to operate, but with nothing to show.

“When the content creators decide to move their films, it’s really tough for exhibitors to operate in the traditional manner,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst of Comscore.

The performance of Tenet, the only major summer-movie release, underscores the dilemma. Released Sept. 3 in the US, the $200 million production has been No. 1 at the box office for four straight weeks, yet has generated just a little over $40 million in domestic ticket sales. Its box office sales fell 21% this weekend from the previous weekend, making only $2.7 million in North America. To date, the film has made $307 million in global box office sales, a spokeswoman for Warner Bros. said by e-mail.

The drought caught theater operators by surprise. Chief executive officers from the largest companies, including AMC, touted their improving prospects with the imminent release of Tenet and other big features. Then Disney made the surprise announcement that it would debut the live-action remake of Mulan on its streaming service Disney+ for $30.

The 2020 calendar still has a few big films on tap. Disney will release the animated feature Soul on Nov. 20, and Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures plans to release The Croods: A New Age, a few days later. AT&T, Inc.’s Warner Bros. has two big December releases: Dune and Wonder Woman 1984.

But those dates could slip if consumers remain frozen by fears of COVID-19 or if theater reopening plans get set back. And even with their auditoriums open, exhibitors will continue to lose money if too many seats go unsold. S&P warned that AMC’s losses could accelerate now that it’s open again.

“Given our expectations for a high rate of cash burn, we believe the company will run out of liquidity within the next six months unless it is able to raise additional capital, which we view as unlikely, or attendance levels materially improve,” S&P said. — Bloomberg

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