Glitzy film premieres could return to Leicester Square by next year and cinema-goers will return to socially-distanced screenings at pre-Covid levels in six months, according to the boss of the Vue cinema chain.
Chief executive Tim Richards, who also sits on the board of the British Film Institute (BFI), added he expects customers will spread out their trips through the day, rather than at the traditional evening pinch points.
He said: “We believe we are going to be doing pre-Covid-level box office, but we’re going to be doing it in a different way.
“The movies are going to be played more often, to more people, and playing longer as well, and through that we are going to the similar levels of box offices we had pre-Covid.
“I think we’re going to have a little bit of a bumpy road in some areas, but I think you’re going to see as much of a return to normalcy probably in the next six months.”
Cinemas across the world, including Vue’s nearly 2,000 screens across Europe and Taiwan, have been shut down in response to Covid-19 and film studios have been forced to shut down production during local and international lockdowns.
Mr Richards explained: “It’s unprecedented. I’ve spent six months trying to survive. Every day, survive. Every day, every hour of every day talking to liquidity (lenders) to survive, and it’s been really difficult.
“But our belief in the future of the industry has never been as strong as it is now.
“I think the greatest testament to that is the amount that is currently being committed by the studios to future film production.”
Cinemas were among the list of non-essential businesses forced to close in March, with reopening allowed from July 4 in England, Northern Ireland on July 10, Scottish screens on July 15 and Welsh counterparts from July 27.
During that time, Disney decided to release its latest Mulan movie on streaming services, rather than in cinemas – much to the frustration of an industry in desperate need of box office hits to generate business.
But Mr Richards was more sanguine, calling it a corporate decision by Disney, which is facing its own financial troubles, rather than a studio one.
Speaking at Vue’s Westfield cinema in West London, he said: “Mulan is a big screen movie. I would love to have seen it here, personally.
“We had extensive discussions with Disney… They were sitting on some very bad news particularly on the theme park side during the second quarter earnings call.
“This (decision to stream) was a nice cushion to a lot of bad news and their stock price went up 11% that day. It was not really a studio decision, it was a corporate decision.”
He will be hoping for Disney and other studios to embrace the premieres of old again, with the added prestige and sales it can bring.
Mr Richards said: “Premieres are a big part of the business. This is Hollywood.
“So, I think you might even see some small limited premieres this year, but the big Leicester Square ones… I would be surprised if we weren’t back with some reasonably big-scale premieres by next year.”
He added: “How do you host a big launch of a film during this period? I think it’s possible, absolutely possible. There is still a really big buzz that can be generated internally and externally. Star power and talent power will not change.”