Cineworld CEO says it had many ‘sold-out’ shows as movie theaters reopened from virus closures

Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger told CNBC on Thursday that the company has had “sold-out” showings upon reopening its movie theaters from coronavirus-induced closures. 

“We were very pleasantly surprised with the numbers. People really missed the cinemas and wanted to go back into the big screen,” Greidinger said on “Closing Bell.”

“We had many shows that were sold out,” he added, while explaining they’re being measured by “what we call ‘today’s sold out'” due to theater capacity restrictions and leaving empty seats between groups. Although Greidinger didn’t provide specific details on the sold-out showings, he noted the strong interest from consumers came without a blockbuster movie to attract people to theaters.

Cineworld, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, operates nearly 800 theaters across the world, including about 550 in the United States. The U.K.-based parent company of Regal Cinemas has about 190 of its U.S. theaters open now, with plans to reopen around 100 more in the coming days. 

Movie theaters had been shuttered across the U.S. as the coronavirus pandemic swept the country and lockdown orders were implemented in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus. Even as other businesses reopened this summer, most of the large theater chains remained close in the U.S. until this month, leaving cinephiles to continue watching movies at home or at alternatives like outdoor drive-ins

It had been unclear how consumers would respond to movie theaters reopening, particularly whether capacity restrictions and other safety measures such as enhanced cleaning and face mask requirements would be enough to assuage Covid-19 concerns.

But Greidinger’s comments suggest that, at least for some segment of the population, interest in going to the movies remained strong despite the monthslong absence due to the pandemic. 

“The reaction to the safety measures we had were amazing. People really appreciated it. They felt safe,” said Greidinger, who added there was a “very, very small” number of instances where people took issue with Cineworld’s mask policy. “People understand. People want to feel safe, and they enjoy the movies.” 

Not every state in the U.S. has permitted theaters to reopen yet, including the sizable markets of New York and California. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated Thursday that state officials had not yet decided when theaters would be allowed to reopen. “We’ll make a determination at the appropriate time,” the Democrat said, according to the New York Business Journal

California had initially allowed for theaters in most counties to reopen until a summer surge in Covid-19 cases prompted Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to put a number of economic restrictions back in place

“We really missed in a big way the states that have not opened yet,” Greidinger said, noting there are about 180 Regal Cinema locations in New York and California combined. “We hope to get the green light very soon.” 

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