Cinema Is Starving, But It Isn’t Dead.

While at work the other day, I received a message which would send me reeling for the rest of my shift – in fact, the rest of the day. It read “Cineworld to shut all 128 of its cinemas”. It was a sort of message that felt utterly expected yet shocking all the same. Cineworld have come forward to clarify that the closure is temporary, but indefinite, with them quoting the current economic situation as “unviable”, and who can blame them?

The reason for such a closure, and the ruthless redundancies of over 5000 British employees? Many will point to the Bond film No Time To Die and its recent delay as the reason, with the film being viewed as the knight in shining armour coming in to bring the masses back to cinemas. The blame, however, cannot lay with Bond, or any one singular film. It seems odd that the financial aspect of the film industry should be so blatantly brandished, with the condemnation of sequels, remakes and adaptations, yet when finance feels incredibly pertinent, it is all but forgotten.

While yes, Bond’s release may have enabled Cineworld to keep its projectors running for another month or so, but when the reduced numbers for that begin to fade, cinema will be looking for its next “victim”. The faded returns of some of large tentpole movies, could in fact damage the industry as well. With the ballooned budgets of $250 million, and that essentially doubled for marketing, it is utterly unrealistic that films of such large investments would even scratch the surface of their financial needs, whether that be through reduced cinema attendance or online releases.

This callous summation of cinema’s financial problem is one that may ruffle some feathers, as the livelihood of, as mentioned, over 5000 British employees have now been put at risk, in a climate where job security is incredibly rare. However, it is a predicament where the film industry will inevitably don the role of the bad guy to many. Cineworld, and other cinema chains, simply cannot continue on fractional ticket sales, with nothing new to draw audiences back. On the other side of it, studios such as MGM, Marvel, Disney, Warner Bros and so on, are all unwilling to essentially sacrifice their titles to minimal box office returns, essentially starving the cinema industry.

This financial stalemate is one that will puzzle the average consumer, and beg the question of what can be done, and in all honestly, it is hard to say. The bumbled instructions of Boris Johnson have urged citizens to go back to their cinemas to keep them alive and kicking. However, we are still in the middle of a pandemic, and while I, as a twenty-something in good health, feel safe and able to visit, some others simply will not, and that’s ok. Yet with a large proportion of audiences unwilling and unable to go to cinemas, and studios unwilling to release their films, the closure of Cineworld, and the reduced opening hours of Odeon, are not just inevitable, but at this moment in time, the only way to preserve the cinema industry.  

Suffice to say by my use of the word “preservation”, I do believe that cinema will return, and there will come the day when we are laughing out a mouthful of popcorn in a packed screen watching the latest dosing of blockbuster goodness. It will undoubtedly be a tedious process, and one that will mean a $300 million intake at the box office will be the new $1 billion for a while. Maybe this will result in smaller budgets, a reduced commonality in overzealous actor fees, and a return to practical effects over CGI. And I do believe that the closest proximation of a “normal” box office intake will take close to a half decade to return. Yet whenever this horrid pandemic is finally in the rear-view mirror, it may be a changed beast, and perhaps one with its tail tucked beneath its legs for a while. But most importantly, it will survive.

Published by Aaron Bayne

I’m a film and video games journalist based in Scotland. I write stuff about them on my website, talk about them on my podcasts and film videos about them for BBC The Social.

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