Bosses at Cineworld are hoping the final instalment of the Star Wars saga, due out later this month, will help the cinema chain see out a tough year for the sector in some style.
Customers have already enjoyed a slew of sequels including The Lion King, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Joker and Frozen 2, with Jumanji: The Next Level and Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker still to come.
However, the weak year means Cineworld is expected to trade below expectations for the year, bosses have admitted, despite increasing savings from its takeover of US rival Regal.
Cineworld, which also owns the Picturehouse brand, added that total sales in the 11 months to December 1 were down 9.7%, including a 13.9% fall at the US box office and 12.7% drop in the UK and Ireland.
Sales of popcorn, snacks and drinks also fell 7.4% across the group, with the US down 8.3% and UK and Ireland off 12.7%.
Despite the challenging backdrop, Cineworld has continued to execute well and our strategy of focusing on optimising customer experience remains unchangedMooky Greidinger, Cineworld
Mooky Greidinger, chief executive of Cineworld, said: “Despite the challenging backdrop, Cineworld has continued to execute well and our strategy of focusing on optimising customer experience remains unchanged.
“There is an impressive selection of movies to come, which, coupled with our extensive premium technology-led offering and exciting food and beverage offerings, will contribute strongly to our operating results and underpin our mission to be the best place to watch a movie.”
In the US, where Cineworld run the Regal chain, there was better news on the speed of integration.
The company said a series of improvements in contract terms and cutting back on excess costs means synergies from the deal are now expected to be 190 million dollars (£147 million) versus initial expectations of 150 million dollars (£116 million).
Cineworld also launched its unlimited ticket into the US in July, where members pay a monthly fee and are allowed to see as many films as they like, and is undergoing refurbishments to 10 sites, with another 70 earmarked for an overhaul in the future, including new screen upgrades.
During the second half of the year, five new sites totalling 45 screens, were opened – two in the UK, two in the US and one in Poland – with a further five sites closed.
Cineworld added: “The impact of the major releases in December is expected to continue the recent positive box office trend. However, given the weaker full-year box office, partially offset by strong execution of synergies and revenue initiatives, management expects trading for the full year to be slightly below management’s expectations.”