Coming to a cinema near you: even bigger audiences

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The Independent Culture

For the hippies at Woodstock, it was the summer of sex and psychedelia but back across the Atlantic, the buttoned-up Brits who eschewed the hedonism of 1969 preferred to call it the summer of cinema.





Unprecedented numbers turned out to see Michael Caine in The Italian Job, Barbara Windsor in Carry on Camping, and Sergio Leone's spaghetti western, Once Upon a Time in the Wild West.

Never since has British cinema been so popular - until last summer, when the largest crowds on records since 1969 went to their local cinema.

The onslaught of 'big hits' drew remarkable crowds to Britain's cinemas, according to figures released today by the UK Film Council. The surprise success of Mamma Mia! based on the band, Abba, and starring Meryl Steep, as well as the impact of The Dark Knight, starring the late Heath Ledger, garnered admissions of 54 million over the summer, which narrows in on 1969's record figure of 57 million.

After the watershed year at the end of the 1960s, when the year's annual admissions were over 200 million, the advent of television led these figures to decline. Then, in 1980, VHS was introduced into homes, which saw a further decline in cinema-goers. Cinema attendances plunged to 57 million in 1984, and although they have been rising ever since, there has never been a summer like it, until 2008.

A UK Film Council spokeswoman said: "We've seen an upward climb as more multiplexes have been built and more investment in cinemas has been made, and cinema-going has proven itself to be one of the nation's favourite pastimes."

The film body's statistical yearbook, published today, revealed that in spite of the recession - or perhaps because of it – cinema attendances saw a 16 per cent rise this year, between January and May, compared to the previous year. The overall admissions figure totalled 15 million, again, the highest figure since 1969.

Box office takings last year amounted to £850m in Britain, the highest on record since 1989, while takings for the first six months this year have so far reached £503m, which is an increase of 22 per cent compared to the same period last year (£414m).

Meanwhile, researchers also found that there were regional differences in what films attracted above average audience numbers, which reflected the difference in taste across the country.

The gritty urban zeitgeist film, Adulthood, directed by Noel Clarke, was particularly popular in London, while the naïve joys of Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian attracted audiences in Midlands, and the teen movie, High School Musical 3, proved popular in Yorkshire. Scottish audiences, however, preferred the wry wit of indie movie, Juno, about a pregnant teenager wrestling with the idea of having a surrogate baby, as well as the film adaptation of Toby Young's book, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, starring Simon Pegg as the anti-hero.

Britain became an attractive location for filming with American and European production companies increasingly being drawn on location to Britain due to the favourable exchange rate.

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