March 12, 2020, 4:59 p.m. EDT

U.S. movie theaters could shut down temporarily

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By MarketWatch









U.S. movie theaters are increasingly likely to shut down temporarily, according to a person familiar with the matter, amid growing concerns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"The chances are high" that theaters will shut, the person said, with the caveat that the situation is "really fluid and depending on local health officials and conditions."

The nation's largest theater chains, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., Cineworld Group PLC's Regal Entertainment Group, and Cinemark Holdings Inc., didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

"If [theaters] have to shut down for a month...it'll have major impacts for the foreseeable future," said one studio executive, pointing to many theater operators' high debt levels and attendant need for steady cash flow.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday that gatherings of 250 people or more are prohibited, with the exception of movie theaters, casinos and theme parks.

Studios have already delayed or indefinitely postponed release dates for several movies, as they hedge against opening a movie that cost millions of dollars to produce and market during a time of crisis.

On Thursday Comcast Corp.'s Universal Pictures bumped the Fast & Furious sequel "F9" to April of 2021, from this May.

Also Thursday ViacomCBS Inc.'s Paramount Pictures pulled the release date for the thriller "A Quiet Place Part II," which had been scheduled to open next Friday, without setting a new date.

"We look forward to bringing this film to audiences this year once we have a better understanding of the impact of this pandemic on the global theatrical marketplace," Paramount said.

MGM Holdings Inc.'s latest James Bond film, "No Time to Die," moved to November from April. Sony Corp.'s "Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway" has also been pushed to August from April.

As of Thursday Hollywood's biggest studio, Walt Disney Co., hadn't announced plans to delay the release of its live-action remake "Mulan," which is set to open March 27.

On Wednesday, the world's largest conference for theater owners, CinemaCon, was canceled. The annual event was supposed to begin on March 30 in Las Vegas.

"While local outbreaks vary widely in severity, the global circumstances make it impossible for us to mount the show," the conference's organizers said in a statement.

Write to R.T. Watson at rt.watson@wsj.com

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