7 out of 10 movie goers have returned to the movie theatre
by Elisabetta Brunella
The diminishing grip of Covid and consequent restrictive measures, as well as the re-appearance on the big screen of blockbusters with international appeal, are the main factors that created the pre-conditions for a widespread increase in audiences in movie theatres in 2022.
The initial figures available for Europe at the start of the New Year, as always still provisional and incomplete, give us reason to state that more or less 7 spectators out of 10 have returned to the cinemas compared to the pre-pandemic period.
Nonetheless, differences are to be seen, some of which are quite evident. Whilst the 2022 trend is positive on all the European markets that have shared their results, there is no denying that several territories fail to live up to the “7 out of 10” model.
The country at the top of the charts in terms of audience is once again France, touching on 152 million ticket sales, with an increase compared to 2021 of 59.2% and a drop compared to 2019, the last year before the pandemic, of 28.7%.
A similar trend also characterizes the United Kingdom. Here the first figures available, which, however, regard box office, reveal a 67% growth over the previous year and a drop of around 28% compared to 2019. In view of the fact that the general trend indicates a slight increase in average ticket price, it can be estimated that the decrease compared to 2019 will settle - at least for admissions - at around 30%.
The German market positions itself at a similar level, with the FFA figures showing 78 million tickets sold and a considerable recovery of over 85% compared to 2021 and with a dip of around 34% compared to 2019. Spain sees audiences grow, though less evidently: the increase would seem to be around 45% compared to the previous year. The difference here with respect to the last year before the pandemic is estimated to be greater, probably around 40%.
In fifth place in terms of number of spectators comes Italy, a market that shows a clear increase of more than 79% compared to 2021 but also a decidedly bigger difference with respect to 2019 than the other leading markets, coming to over 54%. The fact that the Italian market suffered particularly severely from the pandemic had already been demonstrated by the figures on 2021 admissions, which dropped compared to 2020 - a fairly singular case, shared by the Bel Paese and Turkey with a handful of smaller territories - contrary to the widespread though varying increases in spectator numbers in the other countries.
In 2022 the gap compared to 2019 also proves clearly distinct (-42.7%) in the Czech Republic. It is determined by a rather limited growth rate (47%) with respect to 2021, a year that had already recorded a decidedly modest increase over 2020 (11.9%).
Turkey, already mentioned earlier, grows considerably (191.0%), counting 36 million spectators, almost three times the figure in 2021, a particularly problematic year. There is also a marked gap with respect to 2019 of around 39%.
Latvia grows more than any other country with an amazing 241.0% compared to 2021, a year which had, however, recorded a sharp dip with respect to the already problematic 2020. The difference compared to 2019 comes to -37.0%.
Several other markets, mostly small or medium-sized, confirm that around three spectators out of ten are missing compared to the pre-Covid period.
This can be seen in Finland, which touches on six million ticket sales with an increase of around 70% over 2021 and a dip of just over 30% compared to 2019.
A more or less similar trend is that of Ireland, where admissions reveal a rise compared to 2021 of around 80% and a drop compared to 2019 of about 30%.
Similar results are recorded for Switzerland, which in 2022 saw audiences grow by 61.5% compared to the previous year, though remaining at -30.4% with respect to 2019, and for the Netherlands: here audiences grow by 75% to reach 25 million, which means -34,3% with respect to 2019.
Sweden also follows this trend: ticket sales grow by 72.7% over the previous year, whilst there is a 34.5% drop with respect to 2019.
An even more considerable rise in admissions also took place in the Slovak Republic: +110.4% over 2021. There was a 34.3% drop compared to 2019.
The difference with respect to 2019 is similar in Poland, too (-34.6%), a country which, however, already boasted a record growth in audiences of over 100% in 2021. In 2022 the increase amounted instead to 13.3%.
On the other hand, some of the smaller markets manage to attract 8 out of 10 spectators back into cinemas, such as Norway, which reaches the 8.8 million-spectator mark, recovering around 55% compared to 2021, and a 22.4% difference with respect to 2019.
Denmark behaves similarly, recording 10.2 million tickets sold, i.e. a 54.5% increase over 2021 and a dip of 22.7% compared to 2019.
The trend in Bulgaria is largely the same, with around four million spectators, recording a 55% increase compared to the previous year and showing a 21% gap with 2019.
Slovenia stands out for its exceptional recovery after a difficult 2021: the increase coming to over 140% and conceding a figure of -27% compared to 2019.
As well as the, albeit partial, increase in audiences, which in some cases fails to ensure the economic balance of the movie theatres, 2022 was marked by a shift in market share for domestic films, tending to revert to pre-pandemic figures. Here, too, though not without exceptions: “homemade” films continue to do better than in 2019 in Norway, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. Another general trend is the previously quoted increase in consumer prices, coming, however, after the drop in the annus horribilis 2020. This certainly fails to compensate for the rise in the running costs of movie theatres, a business intrinsically marked by high energy consumption and sensitive to the rising cost of electricity.
Russia, the leading European market in terms of admissions from 2017 to 2021, is a completely different case, obviously linked to the political situation.
In 2022 there was a decrease in spectators of 42.9% after a 2021 that had experienced a 64.2% rise compared to the terrible 2020. The crash in 2022 brought the Russian market back to pre-pandemic figures, indeed to even lower ones. The gap compared to 2019 is the highest amongst the markets under consideration: -61.8%.
In 2022 France therefore wins back first place in Europe.
This is an updated version of the article published in the Berlinale special issue of Cinema & Video Int'l, the MEDIA Salles media partner.