Cineworld shares have plummeted after reports the cinema chain is preparing to file for bankruptcy “within weeks”.
Shares dived by two-thirds within minutes of reports by the Wall Street Journal that the world’s second biggest cinema business has hired lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis and consultants from AlixPartners to advise the bankruptcy process.
Cineworld has declined to comment.
The reports cast uncertainty over the future of thousands of workers at its 127 UK cinemas.
Cineworld employs around 28,000 workers globally, with operations in 10 countries.
Philippa Childs, head of entertainment and media union Bectu, said: “This is very worrying news, not least for the UK’s Cineworld and Picturehouse workforce who have already been through a tumultuous time during the pandemic.
“The UK’s cinema industry suffered an incredible blow due to Covid-19 and this latest news will be very unsettling for cinema workers.
“We will do everything we can to support our members during this challenging time and will be looking to Cineworld to mitigate the impact of any bankruptcy arrangements on its employees.”
It comes two days after Cineworld said it is assessing options to shore up its finances after it blamed a “limited” film slate for weak audience numbers in recent months.
The company, which also owns the Picturehouse chain in the UK and Regal Cinemas in the US, had pinned its hopes on releases such as Top Gun: Maverick, The Batman and Thor: Love And Thunder to aid its recovery from the heavy impact of the pandemic.
However, it told the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday: “Despite a gradual recovery of demand since reopening in April 2021, recent admission levels have been below expectations.
“These lower levels of admissions are due to a limited film slate that is anticipated to continue until November 2022 and are expected to negatively impact trading and the group’s liquidity position in the near term.”
The business, which was saddled with 4.8 billion dollars (£4 billion) of debt at the end of the last financial year, said it was considering restructuring its balance sheet to protect its future.
At the height of the pandemic, Cineworld temporarily shut its UK cinemas and placed 5,500 workers on furlough.