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Media > Change > Family films

Family films and UK cinemagoing

As is well known, cinemagoing in the UK declined year-by-year from 1946 to 1985. A number of factors contributed to the loss of public appetite for films, including the baby boom, the growth of the television audience and changes in the allocation of leisure budgets in terms of both time and money. However, it is worth considering the nature of the films that were on offer to see if this was also a contributory factor. In the chart the green line shows cinema admissions, the red line shows 'family-friendly' films. These are defined as films with certificates that allowed younger audiences (below 12 or 14, depending on the period).

Family films 1945-2005

There is a prima facie, though not tight, correlation between the two. Of course, this does not show whether the loss of a family market led distributors to issue films that appealed to a more exclusively adult audience, or the more adult films kept away the younger cinemagoers.
        However, if we eliminate the first 20 years of the period a clearer picture emerges. The proportion of family films fell below 25 per cent for the first and only time in 1982 but then started to climb and reached 50 per cent by 1999. Admissions bottomed out in 1984. Since then admissions and family-friendliness of films have more or less kept pace.

Family films 1965-2005

This does not prove that if more family films had been made and screened during the period of decline the rate of audience loss would have been reduced. The comparative rate at which the two lines fall between 1965 and the mid 1970s suggests otherwise. But it does seem to show that widening the appeal of cinema (in conjunction with upgrading the infrastructure) has had a positive effect on attendance.
        The next challenge for the cinema industry will be to widen the appeal still further to attract older cinemagoers. Can the shift to digital operations be harnessed effectively?

Change index
Page created 7 October 2006
David Fisher