Why National Cinema Day Is a Big Deal for UK and US Movie Theatres

By Patrick von Sychowski | August 31, 2022 6:48 am PDT
National Cinema Day - 2022

Cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are making a concerted effort to attract moviegoers back to cinemas with a one-day promotional Cinema Day on Saturday 3 September, when cinema tickets will be discounted to just USD $3/GBP £3 respectively. Such promotional days have been held before, both country-wide and exhibitor-specific. But this year’s US/UK promotional push has an added urgency, as overall cinema attendance for the year lags pre-COVID levels and September sees no major Hollywood tentpole titles on the release schedule. The hope is to re-engage audiences with a slate of recent releases and classic re-releases. We look at the details, examine the precedents, check in on Cinema Week and also hear from Rolando Rodriguez, CEO and President of Marcus Theatres and NATO Chair.

The 3 September National Cinema Day is being spearheaded by the Cinema Foundation in the United States and Cinema First in the United Kingdom. According to the press release the UK’s National Cinema Day will involve over 570 participating venues, with additional charges for premium screens (IMAX, 4DX, etc.). In the US, the press release boasts that the day will involve “all movies, all formats, all showtimes” across 3,000 participating sites encompassing 30,000 screens in total. All major studios and several smaller ones are participating. The event is expected to be very trailer-heavy as a way of educating audiences about the upcoming slate of films to tempt them back to cinemas when prices return to normal. There will also be a National Cinema Day in the Republic of Ireland, when all tickets will be EUR €4, on the same day as the UK and US promtoions.

The quotes from the two organisations echo each other, with the Cinema Foundation’s President, Jackie Brenneman, stating, “After this summer’s record-breaking return to cinemas, we wanted to do something to celebrate moviegoing. We’re doing it by offering a ‘thank you’ to the moviegoers that made this summer happen, and by offering an extra enticement for those who haven’t made it back yet.” While Iain Jacob, Chair of Cinema First, said: “There seems no better time than now to celebrate UK cinema-going, one of the nation’s favourite out-of-home leisure activities. Coming off the back of a very strong summer for the sector and looking forward to further film highlights over the rest of the year, we wanted to give everyone a chance to enjoy the big screen experience.”

National Cinema Day 2022
National Cinema Day (US) on September 3rd

It is not the first time such an event has taken place, with “cinema days” taking place in the UK in the 1990s and as recently as 2021 there was the National Lottery Cinema Weekend (NLCW), when any buyer of a lottery ticket (cost GBP £1.50) could claim a pair of free adult cinema tickets at participating venues. There have also been own-brand cinema promotional days, with Cineworld Day on Saturday 26 February this year which saw tickets sold for GBP £3 to all screenings, including premium formats. In the United States AMC offered tickets for just 15 cents (USD $ 0.15) when cinemas were reopening in 2020 across 100 locations to celebrate its 100th anniversary on 20 August. In continental Europe there has been a long tradition of multi-day cinema festivals such as Le Printemps du Cinéma (Springtime for Cinema) in France, when all tickets are EUR €4, as well as in Spain (Fiesta del Cine), Italy (Cinemadays) and Switzerland. 

The National Cinema Day comes at a time of turbulence for the cinema industry, following the debt-for-equity change of ownership for Vue International, the APE stock market dealings of AMC Theatres and most recently the much-trailered possible bankruptcy reorganisation of Cineworld Cinemas (parent of Regal and Picturehouse). There has also been a considerable slowdown of the box office, given that no major Hollywood tentpole titles are scheduled to release until later in October, with small titles and re-releases of recent and anniversary titles instead trying to fill the gap. Cinema days are traditionally not held just after the release of a major blockbuster, for fear of cannibalising its box office earnings, but there has rarely been a campaign launched during a more quiet period in the release calendar.

National Cinema Day, on 3rd September, will see cinemas offering tickets for just £3
National Cinema Day, on 3rd September, will see cinemas offering tickets for just £3

What About Cinema Week?

National Cinema Day also raises a question over Cinema Week in the United States, which is scheduled to take place 7-13 of October. Celluloid Junkie reached out to Cinema Week organiser FilmFrog Marketing, who responded promptly to our inquiry.

We were made aware of Cinema Day several weeks ago, so we’ve been out in front of this to eliminate any confusion.  Ultimately we want both initiatives to work because it’s good for the industry.  The more positive initiatives we have for the industry the better. Cinema Week is not about discounting.  Most exhibitors already have a discount day, which is usually Tuesday.  As we all know, going to the movies is one of the most affordable out of home entertainments.  So, we’ve chatted with NATO and we look forward to being advocates and partnering with them in 2023 and beyond.

Brandon Jones, President and Chief Marketing Officer of FilmFrog Marketing

Jones is right that Cinema Week is about more than just USD $3 tickets for a day. Cinema Week has four key initiatives, features, etc:

  1. Asking exhibitors to do unlimited popcorn all week;
  2. Saturday is community day – get 10,000 underserved kids will see Lyle Lyle Crocodile for free. 50 locations already agreed;
  3. Super Tuesday – though they are not leaning into a discount message;
  4. Trafalgar Releasing, Iconic Events Releasing, Fathom Events, Cinelife Entertainment all have event cinema titles that week (for instance, Billy Joel live from Yankee Stadium, A Silent Voice re-release, 25th Anniversary of Scream 2).
Cinema Week (US) 2022

Films hitting theatres for that week:

  • “Tar” – Focus Films
  • “Amsterdam” – 20th Century Studios (Disney)
  • “Halloween Ends” – Universal Pictures (released at the end of the week)

As Brandon points out, “You could see something different every night of the week,” that week. Plus gorge on popcorn. Hopefully National Cinema Day will stimulate the appetite of cinema goers to form one day to one week and then regular cinema attendance.

A Few Thoughts from Marcus Theatres’ Rolando Rodriguez on National Cinema Day

We were also fortunate to speak on the topic of National Cinema Day with Rolando Rodriguez, the CEO and President of Marcus Theatres, as well as Chairman of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), about National Cinema Day and its ramifications.  “If you think about it, restaurants have Restaurant Week,” he said. “Everybody seems to have a designated time to really thank their customers, connect with their consumers, tell them about the excitement and the price value that they represent and really energize them. We had never done that in the US. I mean, this has been done internationally, but it had never been done in the US.”  

National Cinema Day was announced on Sunday 28 August, meaning that there is less than a week to build audience awareness and promote the event, though it has generated a fair degree of media coverage and social media postings. Rodriguez explained announcing the event with only a week’s notice was purposeful. “I think the importance of really launching it on a Saturday is to really create that level of excitement in a short period of time and communicate with the consumers,” he said. “If it just became a story that’s over several weeks, then we’re not really leaving it in the consumer’s mind that it’s this Saturday. If we would have started this three weeks ago, it goes out of their mind. The fact that we can really garner that attention through the course of this week, and we’re seeing the excitement build with the consumers, we’re seeing it in the advanced ticket sales already.”

As for the differences between the National Cinema Day promotion and the Cinema Week initiative, Rodriguez was quick to point out that while the two programs are distinct, they work quite well together. “Anything to promote moviegoing right now is synergistic to what we’re all trying to do,” he stated. “Cinema Week is, in essence, a separate type of an environment where it’s promoting trailers and communication about the industry. It’s a totally different type of event that helps promote moviegoing as well. Cinema Day is a special day that we communicate with our film partners, with all of exhibition and for the first time, not only communicate about a special date on a Saturday with an incredible price point for the consumers to enjoy, but we can also encourage them to come back and experience Cinema Week as well.”

Sowing a Seed for Cinema’s Future

Cinema days tend to be the result of lengthy negotiations to get all parties from both the exhibition and distribution community onboard – in the UK, Cinema First is backed by the UK Cinema Association and the Film Distributors’ Association – and with the same day announced across both US, UK and the Republic of Ireland, there is an added layer of complexity.

Yet there can be no doubt that this event has the potential to do good for the industry and get audiences enthused about the cinema experience. Building anticipation ahead of what the industry hopes will be a bountiful fourth quarter of the year, James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” carries the hopes of the industry of making 2022 a year when the cinema industry put the most immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic behind it.

Patrick von Sychowski
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