This year, more than ever, cinemas have struggled. With the COVID-19 pandemic, movie theatres across the world have had to close their doors and with big blockbuster films delayed until far into next year, some might not reopen any time soon. However, the question on whether or not cinemas will survive has existed long before this situation. With streaming services as the new standard for viewing, many have wondered if this might be the end of cinema.
As a former film student and avid cinema-goer, I always considered this unthinkable. Surely, everyone loves sitting in a dark theatre with popcorn and a drink to watch a film the way it was meant to be seen? It turns out, when I speak to other (less film-obsessed) people, the general consensus seems to be that cinemas are indeed dead. Netflix and Prime have taken over, and the thought of having to pay a tenner for a film that can be watched at home later just isn’t as attractive.
Yet, when we look at the numbers, the opposite seems to be true. Last year alone, there were 176 million admissions in the UK, and this number has stayed pretty stable since the beginning of the century. Films such as Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars are breaking records year after year, hitting box office numbers of several billions.
But, I hear you think, those are only two films a year, and most films don’t make nearly as much. And of course, this is true. The massive franchises are a rarity in the box office. However, these films allow small, independent movies to be screened as well. If a cinema can gain enough money on screenings of one film, they can afford to take on the more financially risky, niche movies. They might not make as much money, but allow for audiences to still discover new genres, directors and actors.
Big institutions such as the BFI and the Academy also remain major champions of the big screen. The London Film Festival still attracts thousands of visitors every year, and the Academy only allows films to be eligible for the Oscars if they have had a cinema run. Netflix films are getting more and more cinema releases, allowing people to see them both on the big screen and the small.
Instead of the thought that cinemas are replaced by streaming, we can think of them as two separate entities. Streaming will never be able to fully replace the cinema-experience, however, it is an incredible opportunity to watch more films than ever. Streaming and cinemas can co-exist: the ease of at-home watching and the collective joy of the big screen.
Watching a film in the cinema, surrounded by strangers, getting a drink and a snack, seeing the trailers and completely immersing yourself in another world is something I – and I think many others – don’t want to easily give up. But sometimes, there is nothing better than sitting on your sofa, and simply clicking play. So no, I don’t think cinemas are dead or dying. They may have had their hardest year yet, but with all the films that we missed out on in the past months, I can’t wait to see them all in a theatre when all of this is over.