Cineworld has reported seeing a "strong" reopening weekend in the UK, with families flocking to see new James Corden venture Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.
The UK's biggest film outlet, which operates under the Cineworld, Picturehouse and Regal brands, said cinema attendance soared above executives' expectations during screens' first weekend open in months - with customers happy to be back boosting revenues as they splashed out on popcorn buckets.
The London-headquartered chain, which operates 793 venues worldwide and has around 5,500 UK staff, said: "Cineworld is pleased to report a strong opening weekend in the UK, led by the success of Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.
"This weekend’s performance went beyond our expectations as customers were eager to return to the movies and enjoy the full movie experience, including the traditional popcorn which led to strong concession income."
The US represents around 75% of the cinema giant's market. In a trading update, the group added that over 97% of its US cinemas are now reopen, and that it anticipates that most of its cinemas will be open by the end of May.
Chief executive, Mooky Greidinger, said: “We are especially pleased with the warm welcome our employees have received, and the positive feedback from returning guests.
"With the releases next week of Cruella, and A Quiet Place 2, we expect next weekend’s results to be strong. When combined with improving consumer confidence and the success of the vaccination rollout, we expect a good recovery in attendance over the coming months, noting the record breaking success of F9 in the Asian market."
The group had repeatedly said in recent trading updates that it was confident of recovery with "strong pent-up demand" once cinemas opened in the US from April 2, and in the UK from May 17.
Pre-Covid the company had expanded quickly under bosses Mooky and Israel Greidinger, amassing a huge debt pile that has grown as pandemic closures saw the firm take on losses and raise new financing.
The firm reported an eye-watering £1.7 billion 2020 loss, down from a £531 million operating profit in 2019. Revenues slumped by 80% to £621million, and net debt soared to £6.1 billion - up $600 million (£438 million) on end 2019.
Over the past year it has tapped multiple investors - raising around £560 million in liquidity in November, on top of a £190 million loan secured last June. In late March the group tapped the bond markets for a further $213 million (£155million) to see it through.
Deputy chief executive, Israel Greidinger, recently told the Standard that repaying the debt is “doable”.
Today the company told investors that it has received the full $203 million tax refund it was hoping for under the US CARES Act.
Shares in the group had sunk as low as 25p in October. Today they opened at 88p and rose 3% in early trading.