Is independent cinema under threat?

Source: George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures

By Jack Stacey

Although it may appear rather accusatory, there is strong research to suggest that the decline in small, independently produced and financed film may be linked to the monopolisation of cinemas by large production companies. However, this may not be the sole cause. 

Upon a quick inspection of 2019’s most commercially successful films, this becomes more apparent as established franchises, releasing blockbuster films on almost a seasonal basis, monopolise the board with names that have become known from the diffusion of popular culture into the mainstream media. Production companies like Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures, and Walt Disney Pictures (to name but a few) are best known for releasing highly cost intensive and incredibly commercially successful films that often span into numerous sequels and spin-off ventures with dedicated fan-bases that can reach the millions. Warner Brothers specifically have released 14 brand-new films into cinemas since January 1 which earned an approximate total profit of $1,191,064,073 (£924,509,495). 

In contrast, Midsommar, a folk horror film that was released by the American independent entertainment company A24, earned a respectable worldwide gross of $27,426,361 (£21,261,816) and was shown in approximately 2,707 different theatres. Although, Happy Death Day 2U was released by Universal in 3,207 cinemas and has a similar total gross therefore, the next question is where is the audience for independent film?

The truth is that they exist! In fact, independent films made up 13.2% of the UK’s Box Office Share in 2018 and appear in many cinemas, yet remain vastly overshadowed by the vast advertising budgets of blockbuster franchises. I would argue that independent film is only accessible to cult audiences through indie film festivals such as the Sundance Film Festival, the Cambridge Film Festival, and the massive London Film Festival which screens over 300 independent films from 50 different countries. While these events are fundamental in gaining an audience for independent film creators and producers, they do not make the production mainstream in the same way that Lionsgate, for instance, can attract a mass audience through expenditure on advertising. 

This unequal distribution of film promotion and advertising plays a critical role in the generation of audiences for independent films and therefore, is causing a decline in creation and viewership of independent film across the world. As ticket sales in the UK show, audiences for film in cinema are growing annually with larger audiences watching films in the cinema than previous years. In 2018, UK ticket sales had increased by 3.7% from the previous year, demonstrating that the audience for both independent and blockbuster films is growing annually.  Additionally, cinemas do not promote the showings of smaller, independent films to audiences in a manner that sufficiently generates ticket sales, instead prioritising the promotion of larger films with guaranteed audiences and income for themselves. 

In my opinion, as consumers of film and media advertising, audiences have to be proactive seekers of content and urge themselves to see lower-budget Independent film in cinemas, displacing the notion of blockbuster domination and promoting the significance of smaller, independent film production in an increasingly homogenous world of film. 

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