Cinemas reopen to ‘huge pent-up demand’ after months of dark screens
There is a “huge amount of pent-up demand” for cinemas and confidence in the industry is “unshaken”, the general manager of Vue in the UK and Ireland has said, as thousands of multiplexes reopen their doors.
The cinema chain will open all its venues in England, Scotland and Wales on Monday with new releases including Peter Rabbit 2, featuring the voice of James Corden, and Spiral: From The Book Of Saw, starring Chris Rock, and classic films such as The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, Taxi Driver and Grease.
Odeon cinemas will also reopen, including its flagship venue in London’s Leicester Square, as will the Everyman and Curzon chains and the BFI Southbank.
Cineworld, which announced the closure of 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse sites last October, will begin reopening from Wednesday May 19, including its Leicester Square screen and Picturehouse Central.
Toby Bradon, general manager of Vue entertainment in UK and Ireland, told the PA news agency: “There’s a huge amount of pent-up demand out there, and we want to get that out there and meet that pent-up demand.
“We know that our customers are really keen to get back into the cinemas and we’ve got a great line-up of films.
“We do know from the customer research we’ve done that people believe you can’t recreate that big-screen experience at home. It’s a point of differentiation.
“People want the big screen, they want the sound, the seats, the whole experience, the popcorn that goes with it, and they recognise you can’t get that from your sofa.
“We’re in some unprecedented times, so it’s quite difficult to judge exactly what it’s going to look like but our confidence in the industry is unshaken.”
Discussing the rise of streaming over the past year, and the move by some film studios to make films available at home on the same day as in theatres, Bradon said he believed audiences still need cinemas for blockbuster experiences.
Warner Bros has announced its entire slate of 2021 films, including anticipated blockbuster Dune, will arrive on the HBO Max streaming service at the same time as in cinemas in the US.
Disney will also launch a number of films on its streaming service Disney+ on the same day as cinema releases, including Marvel film Black Widow, villain origin story Cruella and Dwayne Johnson’s new movie Jungle Cruise.
However, the release of likely box office hits such as Bond film No Time To Die, Top Gun: Maverick and Fast And Furious 9 have all been delayed so they can be shown only in cinemas.
Bradon said: “If you look at what the studios have done with the big films, they’ve delayed them, they pushed them back, they haven’t pushed them to the home and streaming, which tells you that cinema exhibition is an economic powerhouse for them.
“Of course other films have gone to streaming and but generally they’re not the big ones. So No Time To Die, Fast And Furious 9, the big tentpole stuff, has just been delayed and I think that’s a sign of confidence from the studios as well that the customers will return.”
Dominic Davies, founder of immersive cinema experience Backyard Cinema will also reopen his doors on May 17 and said he is excited to welcome back guests.
His converted TV studio space in Wandsworth in London will house 56 tonnes of sand to create two screens with American beach themes, one entitled Miami Beach and one entitled LA Nights.
He told the PA news agency: “We are able to run an interactive and fun socially distanced activity.
“We’ve got the beanbags so we can remove half the seats and it doesn’t feel like you’re in a half-empty auditorium, it feels a bit more interactive still and we’ve worked very hard and making sure that the shows are just as fun.
“One of the big key things was that we’re not going to do a watered-down version of what we do. We need to make sure that if people are going to make the effort to come and see us, especially in these times, that will make it as close if not better.”
He added: “There is lots of space in there so it should feel busy but you don’t have to go anywhere near anyone at any point. And all our staff are in face shields, so that we can actually communicate with you and feels like you’re talking to a human being and we’re up to speed with our table service and all that sort of stuff as well.”
However, he said social distancing will continue to have financial ramifications, adding: “No-one’s making any money with social distancing across the industry.
“But fingers crossed we can revitalise the local economy and our own staff needs come back… the more people we can get into jobs (the better).”
He continued: “Last year was horrendous from a financial perspective, we need to get our full capacity back ASAP and fingers crossed it’s looking like there’s positive news every time we look at the news so let’s see how we go.”