Lettering on an art deco building that says "Roxy Theatre".

‘Bumper year’ tipped as movie theaters bring in audiences ‘greater than pre-pandemic levels’

Independent cinema operators say they are seeing a resurgence in enthusiasm for the big screen after COVID-19 halted trading, with research pointing to a comeback.

Movie theaters across the country struggled to survive at the height of the pandemic as social distancing measures curtailed sales and prolonged lockdowns plunged businesses further into the red.

Bob Brainwood, of Roxy Cinema in Nowra on the south coast of New South Wales, attributed the recent surge in box office sales to a newfound appreciation for outings.

“I think people just like going out,” Brainwood said.

Brainwood said the release of blockbusters such as Top Gun: Maverick, Elvis and Jurassic World had also helped Dominion attract customers.

“Top Gun has turned out to be one of the best movies to come out,” he said.

“We see these titles that come out once every two weeks and they’re still holding up.”

Empire Cinema owner Gerard Aitken said ticket sales exceeded pre-pandemic levels this week.ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale

Empire strikes back

In the Southern Highlands, Empire Cinema’s Gerard Aitkin said he’d also noticed a shift in demographics returning to film, with sessions selling out at unusual times.

“What we’re surprised about is the age group — there’s a lot of young people out there too,” he said.

Mr Aitkin said the state government’s discovery vouchers — which expire on Thursday — had given his company a head start.

“I would actually say this week is greater than the pre-pandemic level,” he said.

†[The vouchers] have been essential in getting us back on our feet, so it’s good to see people using them.”

A historic building on a country street under a blue sky.
The Empire Cinema in Bowral was struggling at the height of the pandemic.ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale

Streaming no threat

Both operators said the recent enthusiasm for the big screen experience could be an indication that streaming service novelty was on the wane.

“Everything has its day,” said Mr. Brainwood.

“Streaming may be good at some things, but it’s under control now.”

Mr Aitkin agreed, saying, “People who come to see these films clearly want to have that theatrical experience”.

‘Bumper year’

Research conducted by Roy Morgan confirmed that cinema attendance across the country had skyrocketed in recent months.

In the March quarter, ticket sales increased 77 percent from the December 2021 quarter, with 3.9 million people attending the cinema in an average of four weeks.

“These impressive numbers suggest that 2022 will be a record year for the cinema industry, as audiences are expected to continue to grow in the coming months,” the market researcher noted.

“The average moviegoer in the March quarter 2022 went to the cinema more than 1.4 times, a percentage comparable to that of just before the pandemic two years ago.”

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