Is Cinema In Decline?

The Arts



Everyone thinks cinema is getting worse as they get older, partly because the core cinema-going audience slows down at around 23, when people start having babies and don’t go out as much. It’s a really simple equation which you can subdivide into other reasons, as we did in my old film company, but lately I’ve come to feel that cinema has radically worsened in the last few years, and that part of the reason is to do with the awareness of demographics. Obviously a film with the lowest level of certification will make the most money, as will one that appeals to the unsophisticated, or to unfamiliar audiences in emerging overseas markets. So the chances of ever having another broad-spectrum bumper year are very slim indeed.

Looking at this year’s Oscar hopefuls, we find ’12 Years A Slave’, ‘American Hustle’, ‘Gravity’, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, ‘Frozen’ and a few outsiders like the appalling ‘Her’. There are a few good films but it’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, a memorable year. I picked a year with which to compare the range of films without really remembering what was released, and came up with 1968.

Here are the most memorable films of that year.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Planet Of The Apes

Rosemary’s Baby


Once Upon A Time In The West


Night Of The Living Dead


Funny Girl

The Lion In Winter

Romeo & Juliet


The Producers

The Thomas Crown Affair

Yellow Submarine

Hang ‘Em High

The Bride Wore Black

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

It seems almost unbelievable that so many of these titles are still instantly recognisable, and this isn’t even going onto the smaller, more cultish films listed for those 12 months. Will cinema improve? It doesn’t need to. Having realised that it is now financially outgunned by TV and videogames, Hollywood is concentrating on overseas markets, while the UK has all but given up the ghost once more, with only the excellent ‘Philomena’ and the awful ‘Alpha Papa’ and ‘The World’s End’ to its name. You can read what I thought of ‘The Selfish Giant’ here, and if you enjoyed it good luck to you.

Perhaps it’s wrong to compare years at all. We don’t do it with literature. So, is cinema in decline? You tell me.

12 comments on “Is Cinema In Decline?”

  1. Wayne says:

    YUUUP, sure is. Mind you I am well over 23!!!.

    Seriously though, I agree with what you say. Films years ago had a broad appeal also there were more original ideas back then, now things just get recycled over and over. That’s one of the problems. Also life has become much more speed driven and new films seem to either do the same and don’t give you time to see whats going on or do the oppersite and are so slow you kinda get to the point you just want to sleep…

  2. Alan G says:

    A huge part of the problem is expense. A family of four living on a Council estate simply cannot afford to go to the local Odeon unless they go without food for a week (popcorn not included).

    As a Resident Association officer I had the idea of opening up our own local little cinema club – no new releases, just whatever we could get on DVD. But the Red Tape demon reared it’s ugly head again. We had no problem getting financial assistance when we set up a local Computer Cafe to help people make job applications, apply for benefits and training and so on – but leisure activities merit obstacle after obstacle.


  3. Robin says:

    Its interesting that the BBC film critics and others were lauding what a great year it was for good films last year ,I wouldn’t have a clue as haven’t been to the cinema to see a film for about 8 years. There just haven’t been any films that I have HAD to see. Those few films that have sparked a bit of interest have been so disappointing that I don’t see the point in going to the cinema to see a film I can get on dvd a short while later.On the other hand,I have been to the cinema to watch some of the national theatre live events which I have enjoyed.

  4. Dan Terrell says:

    I agree with you, but let me add a couple of things that irk me.
    The level of sound is unbelievable. You don’t need to front a rock band to have early hearing loss as everything (theaters, motion picture shows, boardwalk arcades, and even some museum exhibits) are over the top loud. iPods, too.
    Technical effects that dominate and squeeze out the “real” in pictures, where two minutes of inane dialogue is preceded and followed by blow ups, car/motorcycle, plane, etc. races. The more Tec effects the less story. And the repeated vigilante tales!
    Last film seen: Frozen with my granddaughter, It was super loud, very well produced, had some good songs, and overall I enjoyed it and she loved it, but the heroines were super thin – looked like Taylor Swift had been the model Disney worked from – that was too bad. It set a awful example for the girls viewing the film. Isn’t there enough difficulty with girls/young women worried about their figures now, without continuing to extoll the impossible/unnatural dream?

  5. Vivienne says:

    I definitely agree with Dan about the sound level – especially the Vue chain and Odeons: some smaller ones don’t seem so bad. The super special effects in children’s films and Lord of the Rings type just remove all reality from a plot as anything can happen. Yes, I think films are worse, but I would go to see any on the 1968 list, first time or again.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Dan, I don’t think girls use cartoon characters as models, but what do I know? I was told the other day about two sisters taken to Frozen. The younger one took to the situation of the younger girl in the story and cried for the whole 90 minutes.
    I haven’t been to a movie for quite a while and was given a preview ticket to Labor Day. Good acting, especially Kate Winslet and Mr. Brolin, who looks much more interesting with a beard. I had a good time in spite of a some quibbles (who mushes up the fruit for a pie? and police don’t use sirens in tricky situations) and was glad the reviews came out the next day. Apparently the critics who saw it in Toronto laughed hilariously. I think Paramount is trying to get favourable comments on social media to persuade audiences to ignore critics.
    No noisy sound in this, no explosions, no car chases. I’d like to know what kind of murder Frank was involved in. All we know is that “it wasn’t like that.”

  7. Mim says:

    Hard for me to say. We’ve just had an Odeon built in my town, and I’ve yet to go there because nothing has appealed that much… but I watch the listings of classic films at the indie cinema in my nearest city avidly. But that could just mean films aren’t being made that appeal to me. I got to watch a few recent film on a longhaul flight last year and wasn’t taken with any of them (Gatsby was a crushing disappointment – the novel is one of my favourites).

  8. Normandy Helmer says:

    Here in Eugene, Oregon, the local art theatre just built a second facility ( that has lots of little rooms, so they can show “little” films as well as bigger ones, and bump them to larger or smaller spaces as demand booms. Also excellent grub and good beverages. So we do get to see lots of very good stuff. It’s also made downtown a reasonable place to be in the evenings.

    I would suggest that great films are, sadly, akin to great albums. Yes, some people are still out there crafting on the grand scale, but the marketers are looking for more controllable packages with faster return. The move now is to singles and shorts and not to sustained symphonic (whether classical or rock) works that require a commitment from the audience. Web designers tell content producers that people won’t scroll, so keep it short and just bump to another page if your content can’t be shortened. Pandering to and fostering short attention spans.

    I suspect binge watching is a form of sustained audience commitment, a bit of a pushback that people do want to immerse themselves provided the calibre of the experience is high enough. (Also a supersizing, because we are a compulsive population.)

  9. snowy says:

    The more films one sees the more sophisticated one tastes becomes.

    Cinema does go through periodic dips from time to time, for lots of reasons. There will be bumper years, every so often.

    Cinemas [with an ‘s’], as a place to go, are slowly on the way out in affluent countries. Home screens are getting bigger and cheaper each year, content can be streamed directly from the distributor/studio/ etc.

    [Since multiplexes have dispensed with projectionists the sound levels are all over the place. There is a low-tech solution, cotton wool balls. As used for make-up removal, about half a ball per ear.]

  10. Dan Terrell says:

    I never go to the theater without a couple of cotton balls in my pocket. Unfortunately, at “Frozen” I could find only one half and had to divide that, which meant both ears were inadequately stuffed.

  11. snowy says:

    Iknow that feeling!

    Spoke to friend, [Sound Engineer], they are supplied with special earplugs in a screwtop tube that goes on a keyring, called Ear Peace.

    I looked them up and they are quite ‘nifty’, you can change the filter element to vary the amount of sound reduction. Available from music shops or on-line.

  12. Cynthia says:

    Sigh… That list of 1968 films reminds me that movies now are just not that interesting. Saw “Wolf of Wall Street” then made my husband buy me some jewelry for having to sit through that. Then we watched “Captain Phillips” at home, really liked it, and gave us a little hope. We are going to see the Clooney movie today, just because…. CLOONEY.

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