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Golden Globes mark cinema’s successes but audiences shy away

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 11:03pm

As Hollywood prepares to congratulate itself at the Golden Globes on Sunday, new figures show all might not be well in the film industry, with attendances at a quarter-century low.

The last 12 months have seen huge successes, with Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Beauty and the Beast raking in more than half a billion dollars each in the US.

Wonder Woman and several Marvel superhero movies including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok have also more than pulled their weight.

But the handful of hits has masked a decline of almost six per cent on the year to 1.2 billion tickets sold, the lowest total since 1992, according to Box Office Mojo.

It is all a stark contrast to the heyday of 2002, the busiest year since annual totals were first counted in 1980, when film-goers bought 337 million more tickets than they did last year.

The cash registers are still ringing, with total domestic gross a little over US$11 billion in 2017 – boosted by outsize contributions in December from the eighth Star Wars instalment and comedy reboot Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

That is only a small drop from the 2016 record of US$11.4 billion; generally for the past five years, the trend has been upwards.

But when it comes to assessing future trends, attendance is a better bellwether than box office receipts, which can be affected by spikes in ticket prices and temporary trends like a jump in expensive IMAX screenings.

Analysts have pointed out that there were no original titles among the top 10 grossing films in the US chart last year and worry that studios are too reliant on reboots and franchises, which can be a turn-off.

Instead of going to the cinema, more people are staying at home and watching streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, according to Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for comScore.

“With more options for entertainment available on more platforms and via more devices than at any time in our history, of course attendance in movie theatres is down and that is to be expected due to the ever increasing level of small screen competition,” he said.

“That said, the third US$11 billion year at the North American box office with revenues down just 2.3 per cent versus 2016 is actually an indicator that the big screen experience is still a viable and essential part of the entertainment diet.”

The latest cinema figures come with streaming services offering more original films than ever and unlimited viewing for the monthly price of a single cinema ticket.

The television content produced by the on-demand internet streamers has long been admired, but their feature-length output is beginning to turn heads too, with Netflix receiving three Golden Globes nominations in film categories.

The Amazon Studios-funded Manchester by the Sea won two Oscars and a Golden Globe in 2017 and Netflix has responded by scheduling 80 original films for release in 2018.

In a sign of its increasing influence and deep pockets, Netflix’s recent original film Bright reportedly cost US$90 million and starred Hollywood A-listers Will Smith and Joel Edgerton.

The David Ayers film received almost universally bad reviews but it was still seen by 11 million US viewers in its first weekend, according to Nielsen estimates first reported by Variety magazine.

Last month, Disney – the largest of Hollywood’s “big six” traditional film giants – began the fightback with a US$52 billion acquisition of rival studio Fox, becoming a majority shareholder in Hulu in the process.

It has also announced plans for its own streaming platform for its animated content and expanding Star Wars galaxy.

Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at film industry number cruncher, said that while at-home entertainment had evolved into a strong alternative to cinema, the two platforms represented a different offering and ought to be able to thrive together.

“Theatrical presentation and the experience of seeing a film with an audience simply cannot be replicated in the living room, which is why we consistently still see examples of event-level movies generating big box office numbers,” he said. “For whatever concerns exist about external competition, the top priority for Hollywood should always be to release films of high calibre. The rest will fall into place.”

For Robbins, dwindling attendance numbers in 2017 were down to the fact that too much of the summer slate failed to deliver what audiences wanted.

“Looking at it another way, had the year hosted just one more event-level blockbuster animated film – which 2017 sorely lacked – the narrative about yearly attendance would be completely different right now,” he said.