Caught between rising property prices and the popularity of online streaming services, cinemas are flogging a luxury "experience"by Caspar Salmon / December 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
Disbelief and consternation greeted the revelation this week that the newly refurbished Leicester Square Odeon will be charging as much as £40.75 for a ticket. That’s: forty pounds and seventy-five pence, to go to a cinema, to watch a standard film, with adverts and trailers. A film that might turn out to be bad. Forty quid.
Before we attend to the folly of laying out forty large ones to go the flicks—and to the parlous state of cinema that this development bespeaks—a few clarifications: this price is the top-tier rate for an evening ticket at the weekend, for the best seats in the house. Other price bands for the same screening stretch as far down as… £25.75. That’s right, twenty-five pounds for the cheapest ticket on a Saturday. At off-peak times, £25.75 is the top rate, and the cheapest tickets, in the worst seats way up top, appear to be £10.40—a price that roughly matches the IMAX.
Mary Poppins Returns is now on sale at the newly revamped Odeon Leicester Square, at the bargain price of— HOW MUCH?! pic.twitter.com/OI6Bu6qAcV
— Chris Presswell (@ChrisPresswell) December 4, 2018
Of course, whether you think a tiered pricing system is merited in cinemas is down to you and your guiding system of ethics, but these high prices at peak times certainly raise a number of questions. Principal among these are the varyingly dire states that London and cinema find themselves in at the moment. It may therefore help to pinpoint the forty smacker tickets in the middle of a Venn diagram where a circle marked “obscenely rapacious London” and another circle marked “bruised and limping film industry” intersect. (Netflix, which unlike cinema chains doesn’t have to pay London rental prices, will have cracked open a case or two of Bollinger upon hearing the news.)
How does cinema cope with its current predicament? The creaking pressure that television already exercises over film looks certain to increase over time. Witness the latest brouhaha over the release of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma on Netflix. The movie has been shown on a couple of cinema screens in the capital—and has screened in a number of cinemas worldwide in order to enter into contention for the Oscars—but these runs are restricted before the film hits TVs and laptops. This means that cinemas are unlikely to land much of an audience for their screenings, cutting into their box office drawing power considerably. Cuaron has bemoaned this situation with regards to the film’s theatrical run in Mexico, stating on Twitter that he wished for the film to be made available on more screens. Who would run it, though, when it’ll hit tellies for free next week?
Cinemas—particularly in the capital, with its large audience potential—have responded in some cases by marketing themselves as a niche, glam, deluxe experience, tailoring film to the well-off as a sort of bijou time out with added cushions and table service. This trend finds film firmly in line with other developments in the city of London, where housing is desperately needed for the many and is mostly being built for the few. 500 high rise buildings are in development in London, but almost none of them are intended for people on low incomes; meanwhile, London hosts the highest proportion of super-rich people people per capita of any global city. If the reason you aren’t seeing Mary Poppins 2 this month is because you can’t afford to rather than because it looks terrible, blame our shameful culture of courting the super-rich.
At the other end of the scale, there is some hope to be found in London’s film scene, with new and interesting collectives putting on vibrant seasons of film at usually affordable prices. Peckhamplex, along with the Prince Charles Cinema—which works on a different model—continues to carry the noble flame of cheap and cheerful showings. Meanwhile, in an effort to counter this crisis, Vue cinemas slashed their prices on 2D films in the daytime, earlier this year, to £4.99 a ticket—in 22 venues (crucially) outside of London.
How many potential viewers are put off by high prices, and might come to cinema’s rescue if prices were dramatically slashed in the capital? This is surely a risk that cinema chains have decided they can’t afford to take, but until rent controls are imposed on the capital, and arts funding improves in Britain, an endless price hike doesn’t seem to be the solution.