Cinema attendances hit highest level for 38 years

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The Independent Culture

It was the summer of '69, as the Bryan Adams song goes. Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight paced the streets of New York in Midnight Cowboy, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda took to the road in Easy Rider, and cinema audiences lapped it up in their droves.

Fast forward to the summer of 2007 and, for the first time in nearly 40 years, cinema attendance has returned to the same level.

A combination of bad weather and blockbuster sequels – from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to The Bourne Ultimatum – has lured people back to the movies.

Figures from the trade body, the Film Distributors' Association (FDA), show there were 50.8 million visits to UK cinemas between June and August – an increase of 27 per cent from the same period in 2006 and an increase of 44 per cent compared with 2000.

The last time British cinemas saw such a high attendance was in 1969, when there were 50.4 million visits in the summer months and 215 million over the whole year. Audiences back then were drawn by Midnight Cowboy, which won the Oscar for best picture and best director for John Schlesinger. It features Voight as a young Texan, Joe Buck, who arrives in New York, where he encounters and befriends the conman Ratso Rizzo, played by Hoffman, and attempts to make money as a male prostitute.

The Oscar for best actor that year went to John Wayne for his role in True Grit, and Maggie Smith was crowned best actress for her starring part in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Also released in 1969 were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Oh What A Lovely War, directed by Richard Attenborough, and Z, the French political thriller.

In contrast, a series of unashamedly commercial box office hits graced the silver screen this summer. The top grossing film in the UK was the fifth Harry Potter movie, followed by the third instalment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, At World's End. Other sequels in the top ten included Shrek the Third, Spider-Man 3 and The Bourne Ultimatum. The Simpsons Movie also boosted cinema figures. And there were some critically acclaimed foreign successes, including the German film, The Lives of Others, and the French film, Tell No One.

Mark Batey, the FDA chief executive, said: "The weather has clearly had a positive influence on undercover entertainment, as well as the lack of a major international football tournament or the Olympic games. But most of all, each week there was at least one release with a wide audience appeal."

British film-going reached a peak in 1946, when there were 1.6billion cinema visits. Attendance started to decline with the advent of television, falling off sharply in the 1970s. In 1985, the first multiplex cinema in the UK opened in Milton Keynes, offering the public more screens. The latest figures suggest that despite recent advances in home entertainment, people still relish the experience of watching films in the cinema, as long as the films are good enough, said David Hancock, a senior analyst at Screen Digest.

"The health of the cinema business boils down to one thing: the health of the films on offer," he said.


Midnight Cowboy

John Schlesinger's tale of a young Texan who turns to male prostitution in New York, starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

Robert Redford and Paul Newman star as two bank robbers who flee to Bolivia when things get too hot with a posse on their tail.

The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie

Maggie Smith won a best actress Oscar for her role as the young schoolteacher in an Edinburgh girl's school in this adaptation of Muriel Spark's novel.

Oh! What A Lovely War

Richard Attenborough directed this film based on the stage musical of the same name about the First World War, starring Laurence Olivier, John Mills and Maggie Smith.


Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

Daniel Radcliffe returns for a fifth time in J K Rowling's tale of the schoolboy wizard battling Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End

Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley take up their swords for a third time in this swashbuckling tale of piratical shenanigans.

The Simpsons Movie

The dysfunctional Simpson family – Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie – and their home town of Springfield is brought to the big screen by Matt Groening.

The Bourne Ultimatum

The thriller starring Matt Damon, based on Robert Ludlum's novel of the same name, is the third in the Bourne trilogy about a CIA assassin who has lost his memory.