Shares in cinema giant Cineworld have plunged to a record low after it warned a lack of big film releases this year will hammer ticket sales and could force it into a rescue deal.
The world's second largest cinema operator said recent admission levels had proved disappointing, with lower ticket sales expected to continue until November "due to a limited film slate".
The lack of big hits is expected to run down cash at Cineworld and the company is now in talks with shareholders over a potential restructuring deal.
Any rescue deal "will likely result in very significant dilution of existing equity interests in Cineworld", it warned.
The update sent shares diving by more than 50pc to a record low of 10p. Its shares are down 97pc since 2019, with the business now valued at just £137m.
Cineworld has been struggling under a huge $8.4bn (£6.9bn) debt pile, which became a millstone once Covid hit and forced the closure of cinemas around the world.
Losses hit $3bn in 2020 and the company lost another $576m in the first since months of 2021.
Cineworld must also pay hundreds of millions in damages linked to past takeovers. Former shareholders of Regal successfully sued over the price Cineworld paid for the US chain in 2018. Cineworld agreed to pay out $170m as part of a settlement.
It also faces the prospect of paying more than £700m in damages to Canadian rival Cineplex, after a separate bungled takeover in 2019. A legal fight over the damages is ongoing.
Earlier this year, Cineworld struck a deal to delay payments to former Regal shareholders, saying the arrangement would help to "maximise its liquidity".
A number of DC films including The Flash and Aquaman 2 have been pushed back to 2023 due to Covid production delays.
Cinemas have also been facing growing competition from streaming sites, which are producing their own films.
Spy thriller The Gray Man and romantic comedy Persuasion, adapted from the Jane Austen novel, were shown exclusively in cinemas for just one week before being released more widely on Netflix.
Cineworld is the second UK cinema operator to be hit by the lack of blockbusters this year.
Vue was forced into a £1bn bailout by its lenders in July. The deal wiped out shareholders and was said to have cut its valuation in half to around £650m.
Tim Richards, its chief executive, blamed the thin slate of film releases for the chain’s woes.
"When Omicron hit, everyone got really nervous again and more films got pulled... The audiences are there. But the problem is, we don't have that consistency [in films being released] and we're gonna have big gaps." Mr Richards said.
Top Gun: Maverick has proved a major hit, grossing over $1bn in box office sales worldwide since its release in May.
However, Mr Richards said last month that "there has been nothing in between" big hits like Tom Cruise’s fighter jet film.