Seats that dip and swerve with the onscreen action along with water jets, rushes of air and smells to make you feel as if you’re really there. A platinum-class space with food and drink delivered to the world’s comfiest chair. Recliners replacing regular seats. And the second biggest movie screen on the globe…
Cinema in Australia is far from down and out after its pandemic pasting and the stellar success of streaming during the COVID lockdowns. Instead, it’s been quietly regrouping and is now raising the curtains on a whole new range of experiences.
“Cinema is absolutely on its way back!” declares Luke Mackey, director of entertainment Australia at Event Hospitality & Entertainment. “We really don’t see ourselves in competition with streaming, but with a night out at a restaurant, the theatre or a sporting event.
“During the pandemic, we suffered from lockdowns and limited movie releases. But what we’ve seen in the last couple of months with an incredible line-up of delayed releases has been people showing no hesitation in coming back. And our strategy for the future has been to improve the whole experience.”
Boutique national chain Palace Cinemas has also been reinvesting in its cinemas to lure customers out of their sofas and into their seats – handmade in Barcelona and hailed as the world’s best.
“People are doing entertainment by appointment now; less impulsive and more planned. So, they pick and choose their experiences and hibernate a bit in between,” says Palace chief executive Benjamin Zeccola.
“We’ve found special events such as Q&As with the filmmakers and opening nights and evenings with special introductions are going off, although regular mid-week sessions are 25-45 per cent down on pre-COVID levels. But, as confidence increases, we’ll see people return. Escapism and relaxation are more important than ever.”
The proportion of Australians attending the cinema at least once per year has averaged 67 per cent since 2000, with an average of about seven visits per year per person, on Screen Australia figures. In 2010, that put Australia at number three worldwide in cinema-going per capita, behind only Iceland and Singapore, and in front of the US.
The first year the pandemic hit saw that figure slump to 48 per cent in 2020 and drop further to 41 per cent in 2021.
Since then, however, says Anthony Grundy, distribution manager at Screen Australia, the figures are back on their way up, buoyed by the release of blockbusters like the new Bond movie No Time to Die, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Batman, Sing 2 and Sonic The Hedgehog 2, and then, for the older cinema-goers, Downton Abbey: A New Era.
With so many delays over the past two years, three Australian movies even topped the charts for the first time ever in the first quarter of 2021 – The Dry, Penguin Bloom and High Ground – with hopes also firing for the May release, The Drover’s Wife.
“We are now really starting to see all audience segments returning,” he said. “As a territory, we love cinema-going. It’s a very important Australian pastime, and an important social and cultural activity.
“We have some of the best cinemas in the world, and now we’re seeing companies investing heavily in their upkeep and introducing new experiences.”