Turnaround inspired by Skyfall: British cinemas are back with a bullet

Box-office records are broken each year as film fans keep coming despite downloads and soaring ticket prices

Back in 1946, with some spare time at the weekend, the most likely place you’d spend it would be at the cinema. Britons went to the flicks about three times a month then, as likely to watch a newsreel as a film. Box-office admissions were at a peak of 1.6 billion; It’s a Wonderful Life was the year’s Christmas classic, Sir David Lean’s Dickens adaptation Great Expectations another big hit. There wasn’t much popcorn, but girls strutted the aisles with trays of “Programmes, Chocolates, Cigarettes”. You could still smoke in the back stalls.

How cinema bosses must wish the same numbers flocked through the doors of their multiplexes now. After the post-war peak, TVs proliferated, and admissions slumped to 54 million moviegoers in 1984. Cinemas shut; obituaries to film going were written.

But then came a second act, and a turnaround that’s still in evidence. Admissions have been on an upward spiral for more than two decades and that despite the soaring cost of a night at the movies that has made every year a box-office record, with receipts rising 6 per cent to hit £1.1bn last year, according to the British Film Institute.

It’s a success that’s been mapped by Britain’s cinema businesses: the share price of Cineworld, the UK’s only listed cinema group with about 100 sites. Shares were 95p a pop in January 2008; now a string of profitable results has seen them go above 375p. And this summer the Vue cinema chain was sold by private-equity firm Doughty Hanson, which bought Vue in 2010 for £450m, to Canadian investors for £935m. Its box-office revenues last year rose 3.2 per cent in the UK and Ireland to top £1bn for the fourth consecutive year.

Cinema success in 2012 was thanks to a certain Mr Bond. He wasn’t just with the Queen at the Olympics opening ceremony, but rescuing British cinema too. After months of empty screening rooms, which movie bosses blamed first on the Diamond Jubilee, then the Euro football championships, then the weather, and ultimately on the Olympics, Skyfall transformed box-office fortunes and put admissions in the UK at 172.5 million last year, the third-highest level in the past 40 years. Skyfall also meant British flicks led the surge – UK films took £3.45bn at the global box office, claiming a 15 per cent share of the international market.

So 2013 has a hard act to follow. The first half of 2012 saw box-office takings fall 4.5 per cent on the same time in the previous year, so it wasn’t hard for 2013 releases Les Misérables, Iron Man 3 and The Croods to beat that. Gross box-office takings between January and June rose 8.5 per cent to £578.7m. But the rest of this year is unlikely to enjoy such a Hollywood ending. It’s not just the Bond factor: trends in the US, which Britain tends to follow, saw cinema attendance fall to a 25-year low last year; Goldman Sachs analysts blamed a slump in the number of young visitors – attendance per person aged between 12 and 24 has slumped 40 per cent since 2002 – and the rise of film digital downloads.

The cinema industry in this country, however, claims the likes of Netflix and LoveFilm actually boost demand. “Downloads are not the competition,” asserts Rupert Gavin, chief executive of cinema group Odeon & UCI. “Cinema admissions have nothing to do with what people are doing at home. It’s the distraction of other events – the football, the Olympics, the weather – that affects people.

“That changes things week by week, but the underlying trend is that more and more people are going to the cinema. From the long-term statistics, you cannot spot when VCR or DVDs were invented, or when broadband penetration exceeded 50 per cent. All the landmarks from film distribution don’t feed through to box-office statistics. We’re always more worried about when the football starts, or when there’s a big final for X-Factor, than any distribution changes. Those are the things that impact whether someone’s going to sit at home or go out. Those who watch a DVD or download a film are actually among the biggest cinema goers.”

Mark Stevens, another cinema industry veteran, says: “Digital downloads taking the place of cinema going in the near future? Never going to happen. Look at the 1980s when cinema going was put under pressure. Back then young future stars were discovered on video. But actors such as Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme were discovered, and a whole new selection of action films were released to packed cinemas. At the same time the multiplex came into existence. The industry flourished again.”

As for the coming years, the industry is salivating over James Cameron’s next three Avatar films, the new Star Wars recreations and Pixar titles. But it’s not just movies that are exciting cinema bosses. “This year, a big feature has been how sizeable some of the theatre-based alternative content has been,” says Mr Gavin. “The screening of  [Helen Mirren’s the Queen play] The Audience bought in about £1.5m in one night, probably more than in the whole of its West End run.” Mr Stevens agrees. “Alternative content is the next big game changer for cinemas. Live theatre, opera, rock concerts or sporting events beamed into your local cinema live from anywhere in the world.”

New demographics of cinema-goers are changing the concession stands too: coffee and frozen yogurt are newly popular and Cineworld is now selling hummus. But popcorn hasn’t exactly faded away: Odeon sells three Wembley stadiums-full of kernels each year.

The Bond factor does blot the horizon this year. “A single title is unlikely to beat Bond in 2013, but there’s a whole range of titles, so we will see,” says Mr Gavin. “You can’t predict cinema. Everyone says Bond’s box office is impossible to match, but they said the same about Avatar, and a few years back no one thought The King’s Speech was going to be the stand-out number one film. It came from left field, and captured everyone’s imaginations.” 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - Financial Services - OTE £65,000

£15000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Underwriter

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future