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Will the No. 2 Movie Theater Chain Find a Happy Ending?

A costly pre-pandemic expansion helped land Cineworld in bankruptcy. Now streaming and a dearth of blockbusters may seal its fate.

A closed Cineworld theater in Leeds, UK.

A closed Cineworld theater in Leeds, UK.

Photographer: Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg

“The Cineworld story begins with eggs—not movies,” Israel Greidinger, the deputy chief executive officer of Cineworld Group Plc, wrote in a heartfelt Chapter 11 filing by the world’s second-largest theater chain in September. He describes how his great-grandfather Kalman sent his grandfather Moshe to England from Romania in the late 1800s to help expand the Greidinger egg import business and how, three decades later, Moshe diversified it by opening his first theater in Israel, starting the family’s love affair with movies. Given the way the family’s entertainment business has played out lately, the Greidingers should have stuck to eggs.

A century later, Israel and his brother Mooky, Cineworld’s CEO, have moved the London-based company into bankruptcy, the latest blow to a family fortune worth about $1 billion at its peak. Creditors are forcing the Greidingers to sell the business. And they’re on the hook to pay nearly $1 billion in damages to Cineplex Inc. after, at the height of the pandemic, Cineworld abandoned a 2019 agreement to acquire the Toronto-based rival for $3 billion. (For now, Cineworld’s bankruptcy process has stalled the Canadian company’s ability to recover payment.) To make matters worse, in June an Israeli court also said Mooky would be fined and receive a suspended prison sentence after a local Cineworld-owned distribution company refused to distribute movies to a rival theater chain.