There’s excitement in the air — and a whole lot of movies lined up — across the UK and France as cinemas are set to reopen in both markets this week after roughly seven months of darkened screens. Below we take a look at how the situation is shaping up in these majors.
In the UK, England/Scotland/Wales will be back up and running from Monday (May 17), while French cinemas resume operations on Wednesday (May 19).
One of the key new releases to hit the UK is Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, and the sequel should have the market hopping after the original did over $54M in 2018.
Capacity restrictions in England will be 50%, but that’s not providing much pause. Vue International boss Tim Richards tells Deadline he’s “comfortable with that level of occupancy restriction because, as an industry, we tend to operate at around 20% occupancy and with customers time-shifting because of flexible working hours and working at home, it didn’t have any meaningful impact (when cinemas reopened for a period) last year.”
Vue plans to reopen all of its 88 sites in the UK on Monday and is hoping to add its Irish sites in early June. Despite Monday not being a typical release day, there is evidence that moviegoers are genuinely excited to return to cinemas with pre-sale levels earlier this week already higher than they were in 2020 as the first lockdown lifted.
Cineworld, which operates 128 sites across the UK and Ireland, is hanging on until Wednesday to resume operations. CEO Mooky Greidinger notes that “people are excited and want to go back to the cinemas.” He’s also not overly concerned about the current capacity restrictions, “It’s not ideal, but for smaller movies it’s not an issue; they never reach capacity. Every big movie will be able to get a big number of screens.”
Safety protocols are in place as they were during the short reopening period of 2020, and staff at exhibition chains has been well-prepped. Concessions will be available from this week as well.
Cineworld recently set window agreements with Warner Bros, Universal and Disney in the UK and U.S., while we understand that talks are advancing with Sony and Paramount. We also understand there are ongoing discussions with studios for the other major exhibition groups.
Richards comments, “We are at the end of an extremely difficult 15-month period, and I do not believe this is another false start. I believe we are going to open and stay open this time around and the studios have been hugely supportive. Our relationship as an industry is as close as it has ever been because of what we’ve all been through.”
Other titles on the docket in the UK this week include Oscar winner Nomadland; Sony’s The Unholy; Lionsgate’s Spiral, and Warner Bros’ Those Who Wish Me Dead, Tom & Jerry, Judas And The Black Messiah, The Little Things, Godzilla Vs Kong and Mortal Kombat (of those WB movies, only Those Who Wish Me Dead has not already been available on PVOD in the UK).
Last month, a Cinema First poll found moviegoing was cited by 59% of respondents as their most missed out-of-home entertainment activity. Last time around, when UK movie theaters opened in July 2020, they did so incrementally while audiences showed a desire for fresh product. That was evidenced when Tenet opened to $7M, a figure that was over 500% bigger than the entire Top 10 in the market the previous frame.
Meanwhile, across the Channel, France will see screenings start from Wednesday with a 35% capacity limit and a cap of 800 people. The massive lineup of films — Allociné is currently listing 30 releases on Wednesday — includes a vast number of reissues, but also such first-run titles as Tom & Jerry and Japanese anime smash Demon Slayer – Kimetsu No Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train which already has sold-out shows at Paris’ Grand Rex.
(The following week, things calm down a bit with just 14 releases, all of which are new to the market. They include Oscar winners The Father and Promising Young Woman as well as another recent Japanese hit, Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet.)
Also from May 19, France’s curfew pushes from 7PM to 9PM, meaning cinemas can hold showings a bit later (this then moves to 11PM from June 9, and from June 30 the curfew will be eliminated).
Concessions will not be sold in French cinemas for the time being. While restaurants, cafés and bars also get back to business on May 19, indoor dining doesn’t resume until June 9. That same day, French movie theaters will move to 65% capacity, then, on June 30, restrictions will ease and there will be no limits on attendees, however social distancing will continue to be applied. The measures will depend on the virus situation at a departmental level; if there are more than 400 Covid cases per 100,000 inhabitants, local authorities can take different steps or slow down the reopening process, UNIC noted. France on Saturday said 20M people had received their first dose of the vaccine.
When France’s theaters reopened for the first time back in June 2020, the movie-loving country embraced cinemas with a passion and the same is expected this week.
A recent Médiamétrie poll found that nine out of 10 French people believe cinema is “good for morale.” It also noted that eight of 10 placed going to the movies as their top-choice cultural activity, and 73% of respondents said they intend to go to cinemas as frequently as they did pre-Covid.