Young people are going to the cinema less often while attendances by the older demographic are soaring– despite a lack of films aimed at mature audiences.

While the Australian box office is still dominated by US and UK blockbusters, collectively the earnings of the big films have declined because even they are experiencing shorter runs in cinemas.

And digital projection and distribution is enabling distributors to release films far more widely than in the 35mm era.

Those are among the key findings of a new report, Cinema in Australia: An Industry Profile, part of Swinburne University’s research project Spreading Fictions: Distributing Stories in the Online Age.

One of the authors, Jock Given, Professor of Media and Communications at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research, told IF he was surprised to discover the share of the box office earned by the top five films each year has fallen sharply since the 1980s.

“The very biggest movies still earn huge box office grosses, but as a group, they generally don’t stay long enough in cinemas to perform quite the way they once did,” he said. “Films no longer stay in theatrical release for as long as there is money to be made there. Distributors move them on into  ancillary markets” including DVD and online distribution.

The report found the proportion of 14-24 year-olds going to the cinema, and the number of movies they see, have declined slightly in the 2000s.

Conversely, cinemagoing among older people has grown strongly and continuously since the dawn of the multiplex era in 1984. More than half (56%) of people aged 50-plus went to the movies, on average seven times each, in 2011.

Yet the report quotes Peter Cody, general manager of film and entertainment content at AHL, as saying the “narrow range of product made and available for the older audience is one of the banes of our programming lives … If we could have a Best Exotic Marigold Hotel four or five times a year we would love it.”

In 2012, 379 films were released theatrically, the highest since 1959 when 394 films were released, plus 42 ‘alternative content’ titles.

Distributor/exhibitor Natalie Miller told the authors, “There are too many films being released on too many screens, especially with digital, because they don’t have to pay for 35mm prints anymore. Life of Pi went super wide [on 549 prints]. They would never have gone that wide if they had had to pay for all those 35mm prints. It worked for that film. But then you go too wide and it can kill a film.”

The study underlined the market dominance of the major distributors, which released 56% of the films from 1986-2012 but earned 90% of the box office takings.

Roadshow distributed about one in nine of the 700 or so Australian movies released in that period and accounted for 30% of the total box office earned by those Australian movies. Ronin was the second-most active distributor by volume of Australian films.

Palace, Icon/Dendy, eOne/Hopscotch, Eros, Madman, New Vision and Ronin released 17% of the films across that era but collectively they earned less than 5% of the box office.

Cinema owners agreed that 3D has had a positive impact on the business but Adrianne Pecotic, CEO of the Independent Cinemas Association of Australia, said, “Exhibitors always have to ask: ‘Will it bring one more person into the cinema?’”

Cody noted some titles do better in 2D than 3D, citing family films and animation where a mother with three children may baulk at the 3D surcharge.

Miller, who’s the joint managing partner of the 15-screen Cinema Nova, said the 2D version of The Great Gatsby opened more strongly there than the 3D. “Some people just don’t want to wear the glasses. I’d say generally for us the 2D goes better than the 3D,” she said.

The report was researched and written by Jock Given, Rosemary Curtis and Marion McCutcheon.

It is available at:


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