European cinema chain Vue will be ready to open its doors in the U.K. on July 4, with a steady supply of library films such as “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” and early Christopher Nolan movies such as “Inception” — all in the run-up to the July 31 release of “Tenet.”
Rather than cause further headaches for Vue — one of Europe’s most prominent cinema operators — Warner Bros.’ two-week delay of Nolan’s feverishly anticipated cinema-saver “Tenet” has instead provided some security for the business, Vue boss Tim Richards tells Variety.
“Everyone was waiting for final confirmation before going final final with their own release plans, so it was not a surprise at all that there was a delay,” says Richards, noting the original date being discussed for “Tenet” was, in fact, August 7.
“July 31 now feels like a firm day and there are marketing commitments being made. Once that was actually locked down, we saw all the other studios adapt. Before, when you were looking at the period between [July] and Christmas, there were little holes and gaps. Now, we’re seeing movies that have got breathing space right through until Christmas.”
Richards says Vue is ready to reopen by the government’s July 4 target — ahead of Cineworld and Picturehouse cinemas, which revealed Tuesday that they would open July 10 in the U.S. and U.K.
It was announced in May that cinemas would be among the last businesses to open, as part of the government’s final ‘Stage Three’ wave of reopenings across the U.K. Variety understands that this date, which is now almost two weeks away, remains unchanged.
When Vue does open its doors, its offerings will include the 1980 “Star Wars” film and Nolan’s “Inception,” which will mark the film’s 10th anniversary.
Vue, which has already reopened around 41 cinemas in Europe — including all screens in Denmark and the Netherlands and half of its sites in Germany — has seen “big demand” for early Nolan titles. Richards reckons that films such as “Little Women” may end up doing pre-COVID-19 numbers in markets such as Denmark.
“Tenet,” however, will be key in attracting much-desired repeat audiences to the cinema. Not that there won’t be other family-friendly fare to bolster the release. The Russell Crowe-fronted “Unhinged” will come out on July 10 (international release dates are yet to be finalized but could fall on July 17), followed by “Mulan” on July 24. Meanwhile, Paramount’s “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run,” will launch alongside “Tenet” on July 31.
“We’re going to be doing similar levels of box office to pre-COVID-19. We’re just going to be doing them in a very different way,” says Richard.
“We’re going to be playing movies longer, and there’s going to be a considerable amount of time shifting where customers who may be part of flexible working arrangements — or those who may just be concerned about going to a busy cinema on a Friday night — are going to go and watch ‘Tenet’ on a Tuesday afternoon because they can, and they want to see the movie.”
Time-shifted schedules could be a “big win” for the chain, which is expecting a more even distribution of audiences across the week, which will also alleviate some pressure on the staffing side.
Vue is bringing 5,000 staff out of the government’s furlough program in anticipation of its July opening. Around 80% of its cinemas — roughly 72 of its 91 venues — will reopen.
The business will take the learnings from its single Taiwan cinema, which has remained open throughout the pandemic with safeguards in place, and apply them to its operations in the U.K., which is in the process of rolling out guidelines for the exhibition industry.
Variety understands from numerous sources that COVID-19 guidance has been finalized, and is now awaiting government approval. Guidance for drive-in cinemas was issued on Monday.
Richards, who is part of an exhibition taskforce advising the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, says the government’s ongoing review of the mandatory two-meter social distancing requirement will be a significant boost for business. “We have a viable business at 1.5 meters. At two meters, it’s very difficult,” he says.
“Our expectations right now are that [the requirement is] absolutely going to fall before we open,” says Richards.