It’s no secret that cinema’s impact upon popular culture has declined dramatically since the start of the pandemic. With the movie theatre now shut, alongside a plethora of other vicinities and facilities, people have taken to consuming content from the comfort of their own home.
UK cinema admissions have hit an all-time low, in which the box office has lost nearly £1 billion in revenue and has seen ticket sales reduce by 75% since 2019. However, we must ask ourselves: Did Covid-19 kill the pictures, or did it just speed up the process – was the cinema always doomed to fail?
Even before the public was forced into hiding and unable to attend many of the recreational activities they would usually, cinema attendance had been steadily dropping. In 2019, there was a 25% depreciation in movie theatre tickets sold in the US compared to 2002, while in the UK (between 2011 and 2017) cinemas experienced a 20.6% drop in attendance from people aged 15 to 24.
It’s apparent that many factors have contributed to cinema’s waning influence within western society. Whether this is due to the rise of TV streaming services, the dissatisfactory cinema experience, or the monopolisation of Hollywood blockbusters, both young and old have increasingly lost interest in the silver screen.
The Rise of TV Streaming
Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Now TV, and Disney + have become the dominant forces within the media market and are now the prominent TV streaming services that resonate with consumers of popular media. Netflix has even been indicated to be the second most popular TV channel in the UK within a recent survey.
Ultimately, streaming services offer a variety of content and convenience that the masses can’t ignore. People can watch whatever, whenever, for only a monthly subscription fee, which has proven to be enticing enough to render cable TV obsolete let alone watching films at a movie theatre.
Its accessibility and popularity are compounded by the fact movies have been making their way onto these streaming platforms, with the likes of the Star Wars franchise being available on Disney + and straight to Netflix films such as The Irishman. Not only can you choose a specific film you’d want to watch for an all-encompassing subscription fee, but you can watch it at your pace and wherever you’re most comfortable. TV streaming has a vice grip on the zeitgeist and it’s helping to diminish the desire to see films in their traditional format.
Streaming as a cultural phenomenon has been exemplified through memes, especially the well-established “Netflix and chill”. The significance of this meme lies in that, for adolescents especially, attending the cinema acted as a means of kickstarting romantic relationships or engaging in sexual activity with their partners.
This trope has played out in films since their conception and has become so overused that it has become an object of satire, as can be seen in the scene of Grease placed below. Today, streaming has hijacked this part of the adolescent experience, in which young adults are more inclined to go to each other’s houses and engage in sexual activity with Netflix s acting as a form of ambience. Although the romance of the movie theatre hasn’t died yet, it has paid a visit to its lawyer to make sure that its prenup is all in order… Unfortunately, streaming proves to be too convenient, diverse and versatile for cinema to ever compete with.
The Unsatisfactory Cinema Experience
Another reason for the decline of cinema can be pinpointed to the disappointing experience that it now provides. As aforementioned, streaming’s convenience and cost-effectiveness are too desirable for anyone to neglect, meaning that the expensiveness of attending movie theatres has now been amplified.
Between 2006 and 2015, the average cinema ticket in the UK has risen from £4.87 to £7.15. Also, the push for luxurious movie theatre experiences by big cinema companies like Odeon has, in last decade, culminated in the idea of the extortionate £40 cinema ticket to see films in the most ideal conditions imaginable – and guess what? It’s still not as comfortable as your own couch!
Why go to a cinema to watch a film when the fee for doing so is the same as a monthly subscription to Netflix? Furthermore, who on earth would pay quadruple the price of a subscription fee to see movies in conditions that simulate many of the comforts accessible in a typical home? It’s really no wonder why people are happy to wait months until a film reaches a streaming service…
Moreover, people have grown frustrated with the social aspect of attending a film. Admittedly, this isn’t a cinema problem per se, but a movie-goer one. When those around you don’t comply with the unwritten rules of watching a movie, i.e., paying full attention, not disturbing others, and respecting the environment to name a few, things can become complicated.
When cinemas are inhabited by moviegoers who don’t subscribe to these rules and would rather gob-off about what their next-door neighbour got up to the night before, then invariably those who do simply want to watch the film will start to drop-out of the movie-going experience altogether.
Equally, if you’re the type of person who loves the camaraderie associated with seeing movies (particularly those that are highly anticipated) in a packed theatre, the pandemic has put this possibility into question with the potential reality of continued social distancing. The option to stay at home and watch films through streaming services will almost certainly, therefore, become even more attractive.
Ultimately, the reluctance for people to attend the cinema may reflect current social trends of human interaction and discourse. Due to the rise of social media and the internet, we have become more connected than ever before. You can create, maintain, and develop interpersonal relationships online from your bedroom and can even live vicariously through others. While attending the movies was a major social activity during the interwar years, in which many visited to escape their depressing realities and fortify their bond with their neighbours, today the value of the cinema has diminished in this regard.
Although films haven’t lost their allure of escapism nor their power to unite, the problems expressed earlier regarding pricing and social disturbance prove to be detrimental to the viability of the silver screen; particularly when we consider how competitive the entertainment industry is and how, more than ever before, attending the movies has become an unessential social activity.
The Monopolisation of Blockbusters and the Surge of Remakes
Though the biggest and most apparent reason for cinema’s decline has to be the type of mainstream movies that are currently being released. The Hollywood blockbuster has recently been dominated by re-boots, sequels, spin-offs, and ‘universe building’ and there has been no bigger culprit than the films of Marvel Studio. Every year since the unparalleled success of The Avengers in 2012, superhero movies have become a staple of modern cinema. While this alone shouldn’t be considered as a harmful trend for cinema, the popularity of these productions has undoubtedly allows for producers to exploit their audience through lacklustre and low-effort film-making, in which a dedicated fan-base will pay to see a film regardless of it’s artistic merit.
For instance, the Justice League film has been universally derided as a subpar film, in which it failed to capture the imaginations of its audience in its haste to capitalise on the success of Marvel’s Avengers. Generally, the quality of superhero films has been hit or miss due to producers being aware of the cachet and sentimental value that these characters hold. Sacrificing the story-telling component of these films, in an effort to facilitate an assortment of characters, as can be seen in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, has become the norm.
Gone are the days where films like Die Hard are blockbusters. The superhero has set the new standard and destroyed all the competition, and in its wake has removed much of the variety that we were once accustomed too. The mainstream cinematic landscape has become more homogenous than ever before, in which films within the mainstream are abiding by a specific formula, that can be summarised as: action packed, witty protagonists, and lukewarm villains.
Of course, there are many independent films that are cutting edge. Foreign films such as Parasite have demonstrated the cinematic quality that is still present in other parts of the world, while artistic statement movies like Joker maintain to have a place in the mainstream.
While hardcore film fans continue to seek out movies outside of the cookie-cutter blockbuster bonanza, for your average movie-goer options appear to be limited – if you’re not a fan of the superhero, Jedi, or Tom Cruise, then good luck finding your big-budget fix.
Why have we continued to have creative and talented minds working on the latest Star Wars films, that fail to eclipse the acclaim of the original trilogy, when entirely new films could be made? Why do directors increasingly feel that they should set out to turn every film idea into a potential franchise rather than an exceptional standalone movie? The only real answer is money, and we all know that when money incentivises the creation of art; art becomes corrupt.
Ultimately, cinema’s decline is evident though not necessarily stark. The reasons discussed certainly play a role in its decreased appreciation, however, many people will continue to go to the cinema if it’s possible. Nevertheless, while the rise of TV streaming services and elements of the moviegoing experience cannot be drastically altered, the role moviemakers, movie promoters, and cinema companies play in determining a movie’s quality, variety, and cost can help improve the state of cinema greatly. Unfortunately, cinema will continue to suffer if things remain the same.
Written by Keith Mulopo | Illustrated by Beth Givens