Why Was UK Cinema So Successful In 2011?

The BBC is reporting this week that last year, for the first time ever, UK Box Office takings surpassed the £1bn barrier. Considering the economic crisis of the last few years, and the increasing number of people finding themselves out of work, it is perhaps a little surprising. There are several factors at work, however.


To kick off, ticket prices are, as always, on the increase, and the population continues to grow, as a result of both childbirth and immigration. Bit boring, granted, but this should ensure that box office takings continually grow over time. Whilst there may be the occasional drop from one year to the next, over a period of several years, it is a matter of mathematics.

In the BBC’s article, they have quoted the British Film Institute as saying the year’s great box office total was driven by British independent films, and blockbuster movies with British connections. The BFI would obviously be keen to point out that ‘British’ film has been a huge factor, but to be fair, they have a point.

The final Harry Potter instalment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part two, made a massive £73m, which accounts for nearly a tenth of the £1.04bn haul. This total also makes it the third highest grossing movie ever in the UK. The Inbetweeners Movie was also massively successful, with an astonishing gross of £45m on home ground. This matches the £45.7m made earlier in the year by critical darling The King’s Speech, which was given a huge boost by its Oscar buzz. As a result, these two movies have entered the top 25 all-time grossing movies in the UK. It is definitely true that audiences turn out in Britain for home grown talent. It may, in this case, be somewhat of a coincidence, however, considering five of the top ten grossing movies in the UK for 2011 were also in the top ten grossing movies worldwide.

There are, obviously, other factors not covered in the BBC article. I mentioned the current economic instability at the beginning of the article, but it may well be that this situation has actually been a factor in increasing cinema attendance. Yes, you would expect that in a depressed economic climate, financial success would be more unlikely. However, with families forced to tighten their belts over the past couple of years, a lot of the entertainment budget for a typical family has been put to other uses. Now, instead of Mum and Dad going out for dinner, or on nights out with friends, and kids being taken to clubs and sports and the like, a family trip to the cinema looks to actually be a cheaper prospect. A £7 cinema ticket is cheaper nowadays than two pints of beer, or a bottle of wine, so is far more economically viable per person than a night on the town with friends. Combining everyone’s leisure time also means families can spend more quality time together.

Family movies have become huge in recent years, and several of this year’s top grossing movies in the UK have been family orientated. One of the reasons family movies have exploded is that they are far more appealing now than they used to be to a lot of adults. Where once animated films were seen as childish and aimed solely at children, this perception has changed thanks in large part to the original Toy Story. Animated movies have become far more sophisticated. Pixar successfully combined adult humour with kid friendly slapstick action, and all the other studios began to follow suit. Now, it isn’t unusual for an animated movie to be written with adults in mind first, and the kids second. Wall*E, for example, was actually quite boring to many young children, and achieved its popularity thanks to the appreciation of its adult audience.

A large factor that seems to have been somewhat overlooked regarding last year’s box office totals is that 3D movies are on the rise, with a record number of movies released in 3D last year. Nearly half the UK top ten were available in 3D, and as we all know, there is an inflated ticket price for 3D movies. With more cinemas across the UK now able to display 3D movies than ever before, this would have had a huge impact on this year’s totals.

Of course, statistics do suggest that audiences are now beginning to avoid 3D showings of movies, and it may well be that 2012 sees a decrease in 3D movie takings, and as a result, box office totals may drop off. With Harry Potter now finished, there will also be a big gap this year in box office takings in the UK from last year. There are, however, some big movies destined to rake in a lot of money in the UK, and a lot of them have British connections. British born director Christopher Nolan brings his final instalment in his Batman saga, The Dark Knight Rises. The Dark Knight broke box office records when it was released, and Rises has become one of the most highly anticipated movies of all time.

The Amazing Spider-Man also stands to be financially successful, and again, there is a British connection, in star Andrew Garfield. War Horse also has a big British connection, and is enjoying a similar Academy Award boost to The King’s Speech. Other ‘British’ movies that have the potential to make a big impact at the box office include the next Bond film, Skyfall, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

It will certainly be interesting to see if 2012 sees a further increase in UK box office totals, or if the combination of receding interest in 3D, the end of Harry Potter and the continuing economic difficulties faced in Britain put a dent in movie grosses. Whatever the reason for it, it is great news that cinema in the UK is looking so healthy. It remains to be seen what plans David Cameron will put in place for the British film industry, following his comments at the beginning of this year, and whether these plans will have a positive or negative impact on our film industry. I do hope, however, that he takes heed of the facts before he makes any big decisions, as it seems to be film in Britain is doing nicely, thank you very much.

Barry Steele – you can follow me at www.twitter.com/MrBarrySteele

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