Page last updated at 07:16 GMT, Friday, 17 April 2009 08:16 UK

UK cinemas hope for bumper summer

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News


The cinema trailer highlighting the summer's blockbuster films

Cinemas in the UK and Ireland are hoping for another lucrative summer period, according to the association representing most of Britain's film distributors.

Scene from Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire is the number one film of 2009 in the UK so far

To help achieve this, it has commissioned a compilation trailer trumpeting some of the most prominent titles set for release between May and August.

With the world in the grip of a global economic downturn, the malaise might be expected to have a knock-on effect on cinema-going.

According to official figures, though, the sector is so far proving immune to financial woes pressuring so many other industries.

Box office takings for the first quarter of 2009 show a 16% increase on the same period last year, with the February half-term proving particularly profitable.

And with more than £250m spent on cinema tickets between January and March, distributors and exhibitors can afford to be optimistic about the months ahead.

"The summer period sees the greatest concentration on big event movies," says Mark Batey of the Film Distributors' Association (FDA).

"The summer event movie dates back to Jaws and Star Wars in the 1970s and it hasn't let up since."

In 2008, Abba musical Mamma Mia! - the most successful film ever at the UK box office - helped British cinemas enjoy their best summer of attendances in recent years.

The industry is not being complacent, however, and is taking steps to encourage its clientele to maintain their traditional patronage of the summer blockbuster.

'Not film-specific'

This includes showing a minute-long compilation trailer designed to "whet appetites for the sheer excitement of the cinema experience".

More than 30 titles are featured in the advert, among them Da Vinci Code follow-up Angels and Demons, Transformers sequel Revenge of the Fallen and Quentin Tarantino's World War II thriller Inglourious Basterds.

Scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The latest Harry Potter adventure is one of the many films featured

"We want to encourage more frequent visits," said Mr Batey at a launch event held in central London.

"It's not a film-specific message," he continued. "Our message is that the cinema is the most fantastic place to experience new stories."

With no international football or Olympic Games to compete with this summer, movies like Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation and the sixth Harry Potter film are expected to perform impressively.

If the success of Slumdog Millionaire is anything to go by, however, audiences also have a healthy appetite for non-blockbuster fare.

Buoyed in part by its triumph at the Oscars, Danny Boyle's film took more than £31m in the UK and Ireland in the first three months of 2009.

Disney's 3D cartoon Bolt also performed strongly, taking £17.7m over the same period.

Not everything is rosy in movieland, however.

Revenues may be on the rise, but so is the DVD and online piracy, which the FDA estimates costs the sector dear.

'Serious issue'

"We reckon digital piracy costs the cinema sector a month's worth of trading," said Mr Batey.

"We'd need 13 months in a year to get back what it costs the industry."

In recent months X-Men prequel Wolverine has become the latest victim of this modern scourge after an unfinished copy of the film was leaked online.

Scene from X Men Origins: Wolverine
An unfinished copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was recently leaked online

According to the FDA, the problem is far more widespread and dangerous than this one case suggests.

"We're not talking trivial stuff like teenagers downloading stuff in their bedrooms," Mr Batey said.

"There is a serious issue of organised crime ripping off intellectual property in this country that's very tough to get to grips with."

Cinemas are attempting to stop the problem at source by preventing illegal recording of films on their premises.

Even with the aid of special night-vision equipment, there is a limit to how much rank and file staffers can do.

"Camcording is one of the principal opportunities to rip off a film early in its life cycle," says Mr Batey.

"It's a bit of a nonsense that it's a civil and not a criminal offence in this country."

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