When high definition TVs and surround sound systems became affordable for the man on the street, a whole host of doom-mongers lost no time in predicting the end of cinema. Why, they said, would anyone pay to go to the movies when they could enjoy a cinema experience from the comfort of their sofa?
The advent of cheap DVDs and downloads, as well as the ability to stream films on platforms like Netflix, Now TV and Amazon, added fuel to the naysayers’ fire. Cinemas will become defunct, they cried, multiplexes will be consigned to the past.
In fact, the opposite has happened. Official figures from the BFI (BritishFilm Institute) show that, in the UK, 2018 witnessed the highest level of cinema admissions since 1970. This is a continuing upward trend, driven by the popularity of independent British films, significant investment in top quality productions, and blockbusters from the likes of the Marvel franchise. Not to mention the human desire to actually go to the cinema.
According to the BFI, films released last year boasted, in total, 177 million admissions, a 3.7 per cent rise on 2017. That equates to a box office take of more than £1.3 billion. It’s a big screen boom.
What this has shown is that’s possible to enjoy both Netflix in your living room as well as a darkened auditorium with a box of popcorn. The last time cinemas were this popular the hits included James Bond’s Diamonds are Forever, Fiddler on the Roof and The French Connection. And it’s not just the UK box office which is doing well – statistics from The Numbers (a database of film financial information)reveal that, in 2018, some 1.3 billion cinema tickets were purchased in the US and Canada (Black Panther was the top grossing movie).
So, in a world where anyone can watch a film on their phone, why do we still go to the cinema? Is it because it’s more fun to do things with other people than on our own? Or are we all just looking for liberation - an escape from our hectic lives for a couple of hours?
Perhaps it’s the allure of the darkened room, where are left alone, safe to hoover up Maltesers and nachos with no one judging us or getting in our way. It could be the joy that comes from the collective gasp during a scary movie or the sound of laughter ringing out at a funny scene. Maybe we are solely after the shared story, an acceptance that we’ve all peeked into other (fictional) lives.
On a sensual level, there’s nothing quite like watching something on a large screen. Even the biggest big screen TV and deluxe home cinema package can’t replicate a movie theatre. And, thanks to advancements in technology, going to the cinema in the 21st century feels like a truly immersive experience. Think of the Millennium Falcon sweeping over your head or the Avengers battling to save the world. Magic.
There could be a much simpler explanation, of course. Maybe, just maybe, we still go to the cinema because it’s pure, unadulterated fun.