Earlier last month, an article surfaced from News24 documenting several reasons why South Africans aren’t flocking to cinemas anymore following the pandemic. The reasons listed included loadshedding, a lack of Hollywood blockbusters and franchise fatigue. However, the article failed to adequately address a couple of key reasons why cinemas in South Africa are struggling and as many have already pointed out, it has very little to do with any of the points mentioned.
The News24 article makes some valid points that we’ll run through first. Loadshedding has tragically (and frustratingly) become a mainstay in South Africa which makes leisurely activities such as going to the movies simply problematic. Nobody wants to sit in a movie theatre and have the lights go off in the middle of an important scene, waiting a few seconds or minutes for back-up generators to kick on. It’s immersion-breaking and can potentially ruin a good scene in a movie, especially for cinephiles who want the best, uninterrupted experiences.
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On the subject of Hollywood lacking blockbusters, there is a bit to unpack here. The article makes a good point in stating that the output rate of blockbusters have changed since COVID-19. We simply don’t see as many blockbuster movies, the ones that demand to be seen on the big screen, release as frequently as the pre-pandemic days. Hollywood itself has undergone changes that has shifted the attention of some studios to focus on streaming services, perhaps seeing the value of Netflix or Disney+ exponentially grow as a result of the lockdown.
Finally, the article mentions “franchise fatigue” as a reason why audience-goers aren’t flocking to cinemas anymore. For the most part, this simply isn’t true. A most recent example of this is Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which is currently one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. You’d think that the umpteenth Spider-Man movie would result in fatigue, but that’s not the case.
There are other examples released just this year. John Wick 4 was excellent and saw great box office earnings, the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 made over $800 million, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is part of one of the longest-running franchises in entertainment history and it’s currently the highest-grossing movie of 2023. The fatigue isn’t necessarily coming from franchises.
Or to put it bluntly, audiences aren’t getting tired of franchises. They’re getting tired of bad movies.
Bad movies are things that are understandably out of the control of local cinema chains like Ster-Kinekor or NuMetro because it’s something that impacts cinemas around the world. One can point to DC’s recent slump in the quality of its movies as “franchise fatigue” but fail to acknowledge that they’re arguably not as fine-tuned as Marvel movies, which still rake in audiences even at their lowest (e.g. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania still brought in nearly $500 million despite divisive reviews).
This isn’t to say that franchise fatigue isn’t a real thing. I’ve felt it plenty of times before as have other fans but what’s kept people coming back is the quality of these movies. The MCU can run for years or decades but if movies like Spider-Man: No Way Home and its historical box office success have proven anything, it’s that audiences will still see good movies regardless of the size of its franchises.
Now let’s get to the elephant in the room: it’s bloody expensive to go to the movies as a South African these days. Taking into account inflation, you’re paying twice or triple as much for movie tickets today as you were ten years ago – and that’s not even factoring how expensive snacks are. Ster-Kinekor and other cinema chains have tried to curve this problem by enticing people to get club cards for discounts but even then, it’s not exactly inspiring much confidence if you, the business, are indirectly telling customers that you’re blatantly aware of how expensive it is.
We also live in an age where movies are simply a click away. Piracy will always be an issue but it’s considerably cheaper for people to subscribe to Netflix or any other streaming service and receive the same movies 2-3 months down the line at half the price or less of a single movie ticket.
I’ve always been a big advocate for the cinema-going experience. I love movies as dearly as I love video games and at one point, I was watching at least a dozen movies or more per year in the cinema. Now, I only watch around three movies in the cinema a year and that’s usually after one or two months of financial planning. All this to say that it’s become increasingly difficult for me to really keep up with the cost of going to cinemas and I’m sure plenty of South Africans feel the same way.
To combat these expensive outings, South Africans have found more cost-effective solutions and you can’t really blame them. Yes, it’s far cheaper to consume media on your TV via subscription services today. No, it doesn’t require risky financial decisions. For many, that’s simply how times have changed since the pandemic and how it will stay for them moving forward.
Increasing the prices of tickets and snacks at the cinemas isn’t the way local chains are going to win audiences back, whether it’s in their control or not. Unfortunately, this is a problem that isn’t going to magically disappear as cinemas struggle to retain people’s interests, leading to prices inevitably increasing further to recoup losses. It’s not pretty and may only get worse. In the end, it’s your money and your decision to make – ironically, it’s starting to seem like the more options we have to watch movies, the less options are being given by our cinemas.