How expensive are UK cinema tickets? How will streaming wars and cost of living crisis impact the industry

The CEO of an independent cinema predicts it will take years for audiences to return to pre-pandemic levels
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Cineworld, the second-largest cinema chain in the world, filed for administration this week as it seeks to cut down on its more than £3 billion of debt following a difficult pandemic.

The move is the latest crack in the cinema industry, which has struggled to produce profits due to the impact of pandemic lockdowns, the cost of living crisis, the growth of online streaming, and rising ticket costs.

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National Cinema Day, which sees participating cinemas lower ticket prices to £3 (cheaper than the average ticket cost in the UK at any time this century) is a reminder of how expensive the cinema has become on every other day of the year.

As UK consumers tighten their belts in a difficult economic climate, ticket sales at cinemas could take a second dive following a steady post-pandemic recovery - this could leave the future of cinema looking very different.

Already, many of the biggest film releases come to streaming platforms within a few months of their cinematic release. As film fanatics know that they don’t need to pay for a ticket that costs more than a month’s streaming subscription, there’s little incentive for families to flock to the big screen.

The CEO of an independent cinema said that the experience of going out to see a film was a major factor in their business model. But will plush seats, larger screens, and themed cocktails be enough to save the cinema?

Cineworld cinema, as the troubled cinema chain has said it will file for administration in the UK as part of a restructuring plan that is set to wipe out shareholdersCineworld cinema, as the troubled cinema chain has said it will file for administration in the UK as part of a restructuring plan that is set to wipe out shareholders
Cineworld cinema, as the troubled cinema chain has said it will file for administration in the UK as part of a restructuring plan that is set to wipe out shareholders

How expensive is a cinema ticket in the UK?

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The cost of cinema tickets have increased noticeably in recent years - the latest data available states that an average ticket in the UK in 2021 was £7.52, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find an adult ticket for that price today.

Ticket prices vary widely across different cinemas and their locations in the UK, with London tending to be the most expensive. Different tiers of tickets, with discounts for children, students, and senior citizens, as well as price variations depending on the type of seat, time of screening, and whether the film is 2D, 3D, or IMAX, also make it difficult to pin down an average ticket price.

Using Sheffield, where there are four main cinemas in the city centre, as a case study, we see a microcosm of the UK cinema scene.

Independent cinema The Showroom charges £10 for an adult peak ticket, £7.50 for over 60s and students, and £4.50 for members of its Cine26 scheme (for those aged 26 and younger). The cinema also offers a £1 concession for members and tickets for off-peak screen times are £1 cheaper. 

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Sheffield’s other independent cinema, The Curzon, offers off-peak adult tickets for £7.15 with peak time tickets at £10. The Curzon also offers discounts for children and seniors.Odeon Luxe is the most expensive option for Sheffield cinema-goers, with adult recliner+ tickets for peak time screenings available for £18, with regular recliner seats available for £17. Children can book recliner seats for £11, and there are cheaper options available for non-peak screenings, where an adult recliner seat will cost £13.

Meanwhile, The Light charges £11.95 for adult tickets, £9.50 for students, and £8.50 for Blue Light workers, children, and seniors.

Most of these options are far above the average ticket price in 2021, and with more streaming services available in the UK than ever before, many people are choosing not to go to the cinema.

Although recent data showed that the British and Irish box office rallied in 2022, with total takings of £979 million, up 64% on the year before, it is still several hundred million pounds below pre-pandemic levels.  

How many people subscribe to a streaming service in the UK?

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Access to streaming services in the UK has risen as cinema-going has declined. Statista reported that more than 19 million people paid for a streaming service subscription in the UK in the first quarter of 2023.

In August last year, Netflix was the most popular streaming service in the UK, with 17 million subscribers, followed by Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, and Apple TV+.

How are cinemas adapting to modern challenges?

Showroom Cinema CEO Ian Wild told NationalWorld that he expected it to take another two years before audiences matched pre-pandemic levels.

He said: “The world has changed and it’s taking a lot of time for audiences to return. Pricing is an obvious factor, we want to remain affordable, we put our prices up by about 30p earlier this year, but we have had major rises in our costs."

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Ian added that audiences turned to streaming services during the pandemic but that they are returning to cinemas because of the cinema experience and the range of activities that comes with going out.

He said: “You can have a drink at the bar, we will have themed cocktails for our Barbie screenings. We put on unique events and special screenings with Q and As, and we are one of the few cinemas in the region that can show films in 35mm - these screenings are incredibly popular.”

An Odeon spokesperson told NationalWorld: "At Odeon we offer a range of prices, offers and promotions to ensure value for money and choice for all our guests".

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