Is Cinema Dead?
31st January 2021
Cinemas as we know them have been around for more than a century and during that time the industry has survived many ups and downs. But the impact of the global pandemic has been seismic, with cinemas being forced to close and lockdown adding rocket fuel to the already-accelerating growth of the streamers. Has this combination dealt a fatal blow to the theatric industry? Three industry experts gave their opinion to Aquilanta.
Leon F Butler: to be honest, regardless of Netflix and the other streaming platform sites, the UK cinema industry has been dying for many years. Unlike in the States, for example, it's no longer in our DNA to go to the cinema... It's not a go-to leisure activity anymore, unless you're over 60, live in Chelsea or are a screenwriter! The fact that anyone under 30 looks at their smartphone every other minute doesn’t help and neither does the actual expense of going. Covid has dealt a further blow. The exceptions to this are seasonal, franchise movies like Marvel, Star Wars and Bond. But I think we all need the experience of the cinema, with no distractions – to feel the atmosphere and watch the reactions of the audience. Cinemas have offered the ultimate experience with sofas and waiter service, which helps, but not for the younger generation. They need to say it's a “smartphone free” zone, make it cheaper and sell the experience of escapism and the fact that there is nothing like watching a premiere, or seeing a new film on the big screen. They do offer membership deals, but they need to go further and cut the prices of drinks and snacks (where they make their profits) and get going to the cinema back into the DNA of the under 30's. Like vinyl, it may become retro, so let's hope!!
Moira Ross: Cinema’s not dead but it’s certainly in a deep sleep, or more accurately a catatonic state. However, just like Oliver Sacks’ patients, I think cinema will have its own Awakening. Once it’s safe to do so. All we’ve heard over the last couple of years is how dramatically cinema attendance has been dropping, even before the pandemic and enforced closures. I guess it’s dead easy to fall for the headlines that the streamers in the shape of Netflix, Amazon and the like have barged their way into our lives, pushing their highly-addictive, binge-worthy box sets, forcing us to stay in our jimmy jams for days and nights on end, guzzling away on The Crown, Ozark, Bosch, Succession (please Lord, send me my next hit of that asap) or my latest guilty pleasure courtesy of those clever candymen at Netflix – Cobra Kai! But truth is, the streamers haven’t killed cinema: sure they’ve changed our viewing habits, given us endless brilliant choices and opened our minds to worlds we might never otherwise access. How very dare they! Most importantly, the streamers have offered loads of new ways in; if one studio gate slams shut, so what? There’ll be a window wide open elsewhere. Writers, directors and actors all have more opportunities to tell their stories. That’s got to be a good thing – people telling other people stories is what makes us human. It’s how we never forget the past and how we realise the future. Talking of the future, when our lives are no longer locked down, we’re going to desperately need cinema, theatre and stadium doors to be flung wide open so we can once again enjoy shared experiences. Going to the cinema is an event, a night out with friends, dinner before and drinks after to mull over the movie – argue, laugh and share opinions. Home streaming is for Pj’s and family viewing (even if we are all in separate rooms on devices – apart from when Strictly brings us together). Cinema is a magical experience; after all, you’ll never get a screen that big in your front room, the volume’s better and ‘bought in the bag’ popcorn just isn’t the same as at the Odeon. Movies made for streamers can be great of course, but they are different to those box office blockbusters, the writing rather than visuals is king, so the considered cinematography is a different experience. A child’s very first night out at the cinema is a rite of passage. I treasure the memory of mine. I was 5 years old and my dad took me to see Lady and The Tramp, with the support movie The Bears and I. Those bear cubs, mountains and the pace of story had an enormous impact on me as a kid, as did two little dogs sharing spaghetti. Those cinematic moments just aren’t as impactful when you’re viewing from your sofa. Of course, the film industry is suffering right now, livelihoods are threatened across the world. But cinema has weathered storms before – from the invention of telly to the video. It will adapt – make them and we will come.
Matthew Dowd: Long before cinema projectors stopped whirring back in March last year, the British public had fallen in love with streaming movies from their “online cinemas” of preference (Netflix, Amazon, Disney....the list goes on). And this was not just the preserve of the iMac generation: my mother and partner would often message me with new movie recommendations after an evening spent on the sofa cuddled up with Netflix, popcorn and chamomile tea (I’m not joking). But the current pandemic has taken streamed movie consumption into the stratosphere. What for the future? My view was, and remains, that the cinema experience, and all that surrounds it, will remain in the British public’s DNA long after the vaccines have been administered and lockdown becomes a distant memory. I’m a regular cinema-goer and on every visit in the months leading up to the pandemic, I saw young and old still enjoying the experience as much as they ever have - the “silver screen” experience remains just too unique to be replaced by a remote and even the flashiest of LCD TVs. At the heart of this will be cinemas continuing to innovate just as they have done in recent times with the addition of West End plays, sports events and opera. I think drive-ins will also become a regular (not just a novel) part of the new cinema fabric as consumers continue to demand traditional experiences but reshaped for modern times. How often in our consumer experiences these days do we find ourselves looking back to the future? In my view, our beloved cinemas are no different in that regard.