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Cineworld has announced it will reopen US cinemas next month, followed by the UK in May, after signing a deal with Warner Bros to show films in theatres before they are streamed.

The company will open a handful of its Regal cinemas in the US in early April. Godzilla vs. Kong will be the first film to make its debut in the theatres.

Cineworld said the deal with Warner Bros means films will have a period of exclusivity in cinemas before being made more widely available.

It follows a row last year when Cineworld and rival AMC, which owns the Odeon Cinemas chain, criticised Universal Pictures for releasing Trolls: World Tour online while theatres were forced to close because of the coronavirus.

Both Cineworld and AMC threatened not to show some Universal Pictures films.

However, AMC later reached an agreement with Universal where films would first show in theatres for a period before becoming available to rent online. Under its deal with Warner Bros., from next year Cineworld can exclusively show its films for 45 days. In the UK, the period will be 31 days though that can be extended to 45 days for movies “that open to an agreed upon box-office threshold”.

“This agreement shows the studio’s commitment to the theatrical business and we see this agreement as an important milestone in our 100-year relationship with Warner Bros,” said Cineworld chief executive Mooky Greidinger.

Godzilla vs. Kong, starring English actress Millie Bobby Brown, will start showing on 2 April in the US in a phased reopening of Cineworld’s Regal theatres. It will be followed by Mortal Kombat, the movie based on the hugely popular computer game, on 16 April.

The company said it also plans to reopen in the UK – which is its second biggest market – in May, “in line with current government guidance”. The cinema industry has been one of the worst hit sectors during the pandemic with many theatres closed for extended periods or operating at reduced capacity.

Global box office takings in 2020 fell by more than 70% from the previous year to $12.4bn, according film technology firm Gower Street Analytics. Major releases such as the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, have been delayed a number of times because of Covid. The much-anticipated sci-fi movie Dune, starring Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya, was originally slated to be released in December 2020, but is now set to premiere in October 2021.

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