Despite Barbenheimer U.K. Cinemas Are Not Out of the Darkness, Says Vue Chief: Our Issue Is Not Enough Movies

Despite the humongous success of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” in the U.K. and Ireland, the territory’s theatrical exhibition business is not out of the darkness yet, the Vue cinema chain chief has said.

Speaking to the Sky News podcast, Tim Richards, founder and CEO of Vue International, hailed an “amazing summer” citing the latest films in the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Mission Impossible” franchises and the “absolutely phenomenal” “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.”

“We knew it was going to be big. The advance bookings that we had for the movies were the biggest since ‘Avengers: Endgame,’ but what was really amazing is 23% of our customers booked to see both movies at the same time. I don’t think anyone saw that coming. I mean, the pink of ‘Barbie’ and the incredible, but somewhat a little bit bleak landscape of ‘Oppenheimer,’ two very different movies, but they just worked together really well and they were very effectively marketed,” Richards said.

“It was really through social media that the term ‘Barbenheimer’ came out. It just really goes to show that when the movies are out there, our customers are desperate to come out and be entertained on a big screen. Our customers never left us during the pandemic and after the pandemic, that we just didn’t have any movies for them to see. And now they’re back, our customers are back with us,” Richards added.

The executive said that it was fair to say the recovery of the industry has taken potentially two years longer than anyone expected and it is still significantly down compared to the pre-pandemic period. He said that whenever films like “Belfast,” “Ticket to Paradise,” “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” had released, they had broken records in the territory.

“Our issue is a supply issue. Our issue is not enough movies. We know the numbers – 36% fewer films released last year, 20% fewer films released this year,” Richards said.

When asked if the effect of ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes would mean that there would be fewer films coming through the pipeline and that the U.K. cinema industry was not quite out of the darkness entirely yet, Richards said, “We’re not out and the strikes were very unfortunate from a timing perspective. The Writers Guild were on strike for 100 days the last time and we didn’t really feel it because the studios managed their releases of their films – this time feels a little bit different that if it goes for a longer period of time, then it might feel the impact of it.”

“We are hoping that because the stakes are so high, that there will be a quick resolution on it,” Richards said.

Richards also weighed in on streaming vs the movies. “Streaming services had their day in the sun, that’s come and gone. During the pandemic, the two or three years that we all went through, where there were no movies, cinemas were actually closed for a lengthy period of time. Our customers love movies, we all love movies. And because they had no choice they turned on to these subscription services, which by themselves are not inexpensive either. But they were watching those at home and you watch a great movie at home when the kids are out and you got an Amazon delivery and you got neighbours and people calling and 18-20 different distractions – it’s not the same experience,” Richards said.

“There is no aspiring filmmaker on either side of the camera, who grows up dreaming of putting their movie onto Netflix, or a small screen. They want to see people enjoy their movie on the biggest screen they possibly can – people laughing, crying whatever that emotion might be. It’s so much more powerful when they share it socially,” Richards added.

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