Cinema slump highlights changing movie trends

Blank screen: Will this be the fate of all of our cinemas?

In 2014, cinemas in the UK and Ireland experienced their biggest ever box office slump. Was a lack of blockbusters to blame, or is home entertainment changing the way we consume culture?

In 1946, the average British person attended the cinema more than 30 times. Today we go to the movies only a tenth as often: cinemas have fallen far since their post-war heyday. Now they have received another blow, with box office takings in the UK and Ireland declining more dramatically in 2014 than at any other time in history.

British cinemas took £1.13 billion last year — a drop of £34 million from 2013. The highest grossing film was The Lego Movie with £34.3m, although The Hobbit: Battle of The Five Armies has overtaken it since the start of 2015.

Experts have blamed a lack of blockbuster hits. There was no James Bond film, no Toy Story and the last of eight Harry Potter films came out three years ago. Where once cinemas got their money from a wide spread of smaller films, they are now increasingly reliant on big-budget franchises like these.

Film theatres face a struggle to adapt to modern life and habits. Before video players became widespread cinemas provided the main way for people to see films; then came DVD players; and finally the arrival of the internet, giving viewers a vast bank of movies to watch online. No extra accessories are needed — just a couple of clicks and you can be watching a film of your choice.

Some feel that the decline in cinema-going is a symptom of Britain becoming a more private society. Lucy Jones of Rentrak, the research company that published these findings, has cited ‘easy downloading of films and TV box-sets for binge-viewing’ as a key factor in the cinemas’ struggles.

With a new Avengers film coming out in 2015, as well as the seventh Star Wars, there is hope among cinema experts that the industry will come back stronger. But blockbusters may not save the industry for ever. The budgets for major movies are rocketing while their profits often fall short of previous instalments. The third instalment in the Jurassic Park series, for instance, grossed less than half the money made by the original.

Private peaceful

Let’s not get sentimental about this, some say. If cinemas are struggling to compete with more modern ways of consuming culture, that’s because technology has given us such a wealth of convenience and choice. In the past people were forced simply to accept whatever dross their local cinema was showing. Now any film you can think of is a simple click away.

But others feel that the increased choice has come at a sad cost to sociability. Fifty years ago people spent their evenings gathering in theatres and pubs, they say. Now we consume our culture from private screens, isolated from the world. The decline of the cinema is the decline of community life.

You Decide

  1. Should watching a film be a communal experience?
  2. Do you react differently to films when you see them in the cinema than when you see them on a computer screen? If so, why?


  1. Write a review of the last film you saw at the cinema.
  2. Design an advertisement for a local cinema that highlights the advantages it has over the TV.

Some People Say...

“Photography is truth. The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second.”

Martin Scorsese

What do you think?

Q & A

Why does it matter if cinemas are suffering? I can still watch the films I want.
The film industry is heavily reliant on box office sales for its money. Without it, many films would not get the funding they need to be made. Film industry bosses say illegal downloading is costing £170m every year and putting thousands of jobs at risk.
Can I be punished for downloading films illegally?
If you download anything that is protected by intellectual property rights, which includes all but one of the 1,000 most shared files online, you are technically breaking the law and could be fined up to £50,000. It’s currently rare for ordinary consumers to be punished, although that could change: in countries, such as Germany, police have cracked down hard on illegal downloads.

Word Watch

British cinemas
There are around 770 cinemas in the UK with about 3,500 screens between them. The Duke of York’s Picture House, in Brighton, is the oldest, having opened in 1910.
The Hobbit: Battle of The Five Armies
As of 11th January, the last of Peter Jackson’s six Tolkein epics has taken £160 million worldwide at the box office.
Blockbusters are particularly successful films. The highest grossing film of all time is Avatar, which took around £1.8 billion. Second is the 1997 classic, The Titanic, while The Avengers comes in third.
A series of cultural products with a shared mythology all owned by the same brand.
Private society
As technology becomes more advanced, there is far more to do at home. Studies have shown that children play less sport than they used to because of the rise of computer games. The prevalence of cars over trains and buses is another way in which society has become more private.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.