Cinema industry reels in film fans with Star Wars

The Force was strong with Cineworld last year as box office takings soared 11.6%.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 25 Apr 2016

The film industry is nothing if not resilient. Despite threats from piracy and the rising likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, cinemas are continuing to draw in customers, as Cineworld is keen to point out in its latest trading update.

The cinema chain's revenues for the year were up 12.3%, including an 11.6% jump in box office takings. That was driven by a series of blockbusters that played a starring role in boosting fourth quarter sales – James Bond’s latest outing in Spectre, the final instalment of The Hunger Games and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The group said it expects profitability for 2015 to be in line with market expectations after posting double digit revenue growth across the board.

Cineworld claimed the rise in admissions alongside the diverse range of films on show contributed to a rise in retail revenues too – up 13.7%. So even the ridiculous price of popcorn hasn't been putting off people that much. The cinema operator has also been rolling out more Starbucks outlets in its UK cinemas – up to 17 at the latest count.

Cineworld opened a record 18 new cinemas in 2015 and plans to open another 13 this year. So it's feeling confident that there's still room for growth. And considering rival Odeon's revenues were up 21.2% to £321.5m last year, according to industry data from Rentrak, it seems as if the cinema industry is in rude health across the board.

And it's not just consumers that have an appetite for films. The massive Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group (the world’s biggest cinema operator) just announced it has bought a controlling stake in Hollywood film studio Legendary Entertainment in a $3.5bn (£2.4bn) deal.

This newest move is a signal Wanda – led by China’s richest man Wang Jianlin – is on track to become a global media firm. It does though, also raise questions as to what extent films will be made with Chinese censorship in mind.

Founder and chairman Jianlin, told the BBC that he thought Hollywood films would need to adapt to the Chinese market in order to have mass appeal. ‘I think this is very normal because US companies want to grab a share in the Chinese high-growth market,’ he said. ‘They should do something to cater to Chinese audiences’ interests – if they don’t, there might be trouble.’ Sounds like Hollywood producers better watch out...

Cinemas had a good time in 2015, but it’s not going to be every year you get a record-breaking film with the cultural impact of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is currently inching its way up the all-time list (in third behind Avatar and Titanic).

Audience interest in actually visiting cinemas is of course, highly dependent on what’s showing and Cineworld will be hoping the next two Star Wars films provide a similar boost for the coming years. 2016 doesn't have quite the array of heavy-hitters that 2015 did, but Leonardo DiCaprio's turn in The Revenant should lure in some cinema-goers. And you never know - Kung Fu Panda 3 could be a surprise standout.

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