Awards season is perfectly timed to ensure that we’re never short of great films to get us through (what feels like) the longest month of the year. Last Sunday, the BAFTAs celebrated some of these, as we saw 1917 sweep up seven awards, including ‘Best Picture’, a category which, for the second year in a row, featured a Netflix nominee. In light of this, we’ve reflected on cinema’s journey, from Hollywood’s Golden Age to today’s market with video-on-demand services vying for a place within it.
A short history of cinema
By the 1930’s, almost all motion pictures, or “talkies”, were released in full colour with sound, and cinema became the primary form of popular entertainment. People attended several times a week during Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’ and American films dominated the British box office.
Cinema remained popular throughout World War II, and reached its peak soon after, as audiences enjoyed morale boosting films with a war theme.
Technological and societal developments, such as mainstream television ownership, the introduction of VHS and a greater choice of media entertainment have all contributed to the steady decline of ticket sales from 1946, as increasing numbers have opted to watch films at home, resulting in an all-time low in 1984.
However, since then a number of factors have meant that a night at the pictures is becoming a popular pastime once again: rising incomes that allow consumers to spend more on media entertainment; TV becoming ubiquitous, and increasing investment in the cinematic experience (e.g. technology, production budgets and theatre interiors). Although it’s unlikely we’ll see admissions as high as the 40s and 50s again, cinema still has a valued role in the UK, and it’s working hard to keep it this way.
Video-on-demand services are the latest development to cause a stir in the film industry. Interestingly, over the past 10 years, Netflix’s library of film and TV titles has shrunk; this seems to be a shift in its strategy, and its renewed effort to focus on high-quality original content in an increasingly competitive market appears to be paying off. Receiving its first Oscar nomination in 2014, it is now nominated for 24 awards in the upcoming 2020 ceremony.
Netflix’s increasing presence at awards ceremonies has not been welcomed by all, with Steven Spielberg and Dame Helen Mirren among those voicing their opinions on the service’s model of releasing films online, or to very limited theatres, instead of the traditional practice of premiering them in cinemas. For the same reason, Netflix has been absent from the Cannes Film Festival for the past two years due to an ongoing dispute regarding the festival’s three-month theatrical release window rule.
Adapting release models
We’re seeing more interesting overlaps between broadcasters, SVOD services and the big screen. In May last year, Sky decided to make Ted Bundy thriller Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile available to watch on Sky Cinema and the big screen simultaneously, giving viewers the option to watch a new release from the comfort of their front room.
More recently, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story was shown by Netflix at six cinemas for one month before it was available to stream, including the Paris Theater in Manhattan. Originally opened in 1948, the Paris Theater is New York’s last remaining single screen cinema, and was due to close permanently before Netflix renewed its lease. By premiering Marriage Story at this historic theatre, Netflix has enabled the cinema to stay open, whilst retaining ‘the communal experience of seeing something funny or sad’ that Baumbach himself claims is lost from watching films at home.
The cinema industry is also evolving to provide audiences with an experience they are unable to create at home. With vast libraries of content available at consumers’ fingertips, the needs and expectations of cinemagoers have changed, and a night at the cinema is not always just about the film. Recent success stories such as 1917 have drawn audiences in for a ‘cinematic experience’ that can only be created on the big screen. Furthermore, boutique cinemas are investing in luxury seating, high-quality screens and gourmet food and drink offerings; something that has particularly paid off for the Everyman chain, as it’s enabled them to grow in number each year, under a mission to ‘make people fall back in love with cinema’.
In keeping with this trend, immersive cinema is also an exciting new way to experience a film. Since 2007, Secret Cinema has specialised in theatrical movie screenings where attendees come in-costume, and the world of the film is recreated in a secret London location. Their Casino Royale production, which featured live music, poker games and themed bars, proved the most popular with more than 120,000 attendees over the course of the screenings. Currently staging Netflix’s Stranger Things, previous events have also included Moulin Rouge, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Casablanca, and future productions are likely to include Disney classics as the two companies have formed a global partnership.
It’s fascinating to see the journey that film screenings have taken since the 1930s. Given the constant innovation in the broader entertainment sector, we’re excited to see what’s next for the evolution of cinema. There’s certainly no shortage of quality content, so we’re confident that cinema-goers will be enjoying the big screen for years to come!