Hundreds of movie theaters will shutter their doors once again this week, a move that comes after the delay of yet another major studio tentpole and as theater owners point blame to one man: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Theaters in New York have remained closed since March when the governor closed all indoor entertainment venues in conjunction with a statewide shutdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Only New York and New Mexico continue to enforce a statewide ban on theaters.
Regal Cinemas's parent company, Cineworld, announced on Monday the impending closure of all 536 of its theaters due to continued revenue losses. (Almost 70 percent of Regal theaters had reopened by a count on the company's website).
The announcement comes a week after the delay of the latest James Bond installment "No Time to Die," leaving theaters with second-run films and other independent fare for the next of couple months.
Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger blamed the reluctance of studios to release new films on "major U.S. markets, mainly New York," refusing to reopen theaters or provide a timeline to do so.
Highly anticipated films like "West Side Story," "Black Widow," "A Quiet Place Part II," "The French Dispatch," and many others have been moved repeatedly, with the bulk of major releases pushed to the 2021 calendar.
"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," the company's statement read.
The closure is said to impact 40,000 employees across the U.S., according to Cineworld.
While the company behind the second-largest theater chain in the U.S. didn't call attention to Gov. Cuomo by name, that didn't stop John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO).
In an interview with Variety published Sunday, Fithian emphasized the importance of New York's role in the studio film engine.
"The failure of Gov. Cuomo to allow movie theaters to reopen anywhere in his state was a principal, if not exclusive, cause of the Bond move," Fithian said. "If movies aren’t getting released because New York isn’t open, that affects the movie industry and its employees all over the world."
Fithian would not rule out suing the state to get theaters back open. In July, NATO led a lawsuit with theater companies against New Jersey over Gov. Phil Murphy's treatment of movie theaters, that their lawsuit alleged was "neither fair nor reasonable." Murphy finally cleared theaters to reopen in the first week of September, a move that was not followed by his next door neighbor.
When reached by email Monday, Cuomo Senior Advisor Richard Azzopardi said, "We're moving heaven and earth trying to stop a second wave and people need to acknowledge that we're still in a pandemic and start to act like it. We understand some people are unhappy but you know what? Better unhappy than sick or worse."
Once the epicenter of the coronavirus, New York state was able to bring infection rates to some of the lowest levels seen in the U.S. Now, after months of progress and multi-level reopening phases, it must contend with small, but growing outbreaks in four counties.
"I know [Cuomo]’s got some increases of infections in some limited areas in the state. But restaurants in New York are open, gyms are open, churches are open, indoor dining is being offered," Fithian said. "If New York remains closed to theater operations, other movies scheduled for 2020 will move as well."
The next day, Deadline reported that Warner Brothers was ready to push "Dune" to next year as well.