A story in need of a happy ending

Despite the much-needed boost for the film industry provided by ’Oppenheimer’ and ’Barbie’, pre-pandemic viewer numbers remain way out of reach

The evolution of films screened in cinemas over the last five years in Catalonia and around the world seems to follow guidelines taken from a Hollywood script, an action film of highs and lows. With close to record viewer figures in 2019 (18.8 million), Covid saw them plummet (4.9 million in 2020) and now, four years later, they stand at 13.8 million.

Overall, the panorama has improved in Catalonia, but there is still a long way to go to reach the situation of five years ago. “Cinema-going is still 25% or 30% below pre-pandemic levels,” says Francesc Vilallonga, professor on the Bachelor’s Degree in Audiovisual Communication at Ramon Llull University and member of the management team at the Truffaut cinema in Girona. “In that regard, the Oppenheimer and Barbie phenomenon has unfortunately not continued. A number of factors have played a part, like the writers’ and actors’ strike, and 2024 doesn’t really look very good. I think cinemas will suffer a little, because the content that was supposed to be there has partly been postponed until 2025 and 2026.”

There have been closures, especially in Barcelona: the Icària (15 screens) and the Comèdia (5) cinemas have shut up shop. On the other hand, Texas with its two screens has reopened. But the balance remains negative: 18 screens have been lost. “I don’t think there is a regression of cinemas,” says Vilallonga, “it has more to do with commercial dynamics rather than whether cinemas work or not.”

Independent cinema has had an exceptional year, helping to improve the figures for 2023 a little. But to return to pre-pandemic figures, Vilallonga says Hollywood would have to renew its content: “After the phenomenon of Barbie and Oppenheimer, I’m not sure if the major Hollywood studios have understood that what people want is new content, originality, different stories, and not this stretching out of franchises and universes, which are clearly showing very worrying symptoms of excess. And changing this model will take more than a year or two, if it changes at all.” Indeed, the poor results of Marvel blockbusters seem to highlight this exhaustion of the formula.

One strategy that has been used for years now is the film festival. In 2023, festivals attracted 53,741 viewers in Catalonia and 2.2 million in Spain as a whole. Vilallonga expresses doubts about their real effectiveness, however, even if he thinks it is important to maintain them: “We’ve done it for many years and I’m still quite sceptical, but anything that encourages people to go to the cinema is fine with me. It got complicated and the fact it has been simplified is good news.”

feature CINEMA

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