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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Cinema goes from strength to strength

By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

More people are going to the movies in the UK than at any other time in almost 30 years, according to a study.

The Film Council's figures confirming healthy business at British cinemas in 2002 do not come as a surprise to film experts.

Industry watchers say cinema's popularity is part of a growing trend since the explosion of multiplexes in the mid-1980s.

They also point to an increase in the number of Hollywood blockbusters being tailored towards family viewing.

Film facts
The Matrix Reloaded
Each person visits a UK cinema on average three times each year
More people in the US and Ireland visit cinemas than in the UK
3,200 screens show films at 650 UK sites
Source: FDA and CEA

Last year, films such as Spider-Man and the Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and James Bond hits helped to boost the British box office to 755m - 17% up on 2001.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets had British cinema's biggest-ever opening weekend, pulling in 18.9m.

At the 12-screen Warner Village cinema in Shepherd's Bush, west London - a typical multiplex - customers were happy with their big-screen experiences.

Design manager David Hunt, 43, said: "The thing about multiplexes is they give you a good choice of films, and if the film want you want is full you can just go and see something else."

Spider-Man was a huge box office hit in 2002
Allison Simms, 39, a mother of two teenage sons, said it represented good value for the family.

"For what it is it's not a bad deal, so we try to go at least twice a month," she said.

Mark Batey, chief executive of the Film Distributors' Association, said investment in multi-screen cinemas had paid off for the industry.

And he said strong marketing was the key to further success.

"Cinema visits have been growing almost without interruption since 1984," he told BBC News Online.

"It's a product-led business and very few people just turn up at the cinema not knowing what they want to see.

"Our job is to take the finished film and position it so we get bums on seats."

David Hunt
Cinema-goer David Hunt enjoyed his film experience
But Mr Batey warned that despite the encouraging figures, the industry could not afford to be complacent.

"There is considerable room for further growth in the UK cinema," he said.

"It's a very competitive environment and there is still a job for the industry to do.

"We can do all the marketing we can, but if a film isn't very good, word of mouth will get out and you won't be able to persuade a wide audience to see it.

"There are too many other things to do for people to go and give up their evenings."

John Wilkinson, chief executive of the Cinema Exhibitors Association, said last year's strong box office figures were boosted by home-grown films.

"Whenever you have films that are perceived as being from the domestic market, you get a boost," he said.

Johnny English
Johnny English was another popular UK movie
"Last year there was the Bond film, Bend It Like Beckham and Potter. We were fortunate with a spread of films appealing across a wide audience."

He said the quality and innovation of Britain's multiplexes was crucial in encouraging filmgoers.

"The service in cinemas has improved and it's still comparatively great value for a night out."

One film critic said last year's promising numbers represented both a blip and a trend at the same time.

Charles Gant, film editor of Heat magazine, predicted a slower year with fewer blockbusters on the horizon.

He said: "Last year the product was particularly strong, commercial and well marketed to mainstream audiences.

"This year there's no Potter, no Bond and the Lord of the Rings will do most of its business in 2004. So it's less exciting."

He added: "The trend generally is upwards - but the particular size of last year's boost can only be explained by a blip."

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