Movie on up Opinion: Phil Fishwick

“Rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated,” author Mark Twain famously quipped in the 1900’s. Today the same applies to the intown leisure scene, which has morphed into a kaleidoscope of offers essential to keep it alive.


Seeing Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt grace the silver screen this summer, highlights Hollywood’s habit of rolling out successful sequels reflecting the existing risk pattern of the studios, who only want the safe bet of doing what they know makes money. Potential anomalies being the original Barbie and the latest Wes Anderson film offering, Asteroid City, but arguably you would say these are successful brands (the 64-year-old Barbie, and hugely successful director).


The result of Hollywood’s safe bets means shopping centre owners are not the only investors affected by the cost of financing: so too are the cinemas, who are also facing the ever-increasing competition from streaming platforms. This has meant less product – films available for operators, and structural changes within the industry reducing the exclusivity window for cinemas to show new offerings before they go to the likes of Netflix, Amazon, or Apple+.


You can now understand why cinema box office numbers are down by at least 25% post covid, although July’s pinkness of Barbie, and the nuclear Oppenheimer have given welcome relief. 


The drop in revenue has significantly impacted UK operators, resulting in several restructurings; Vue wiping out previous shareholders, Cineworld, marred by the US business and falling into administration like Empire.


Thankfully some have been reacting positively to change by undertaking refits, aimed at reducing seats while upscaling the experience - Odeon Luxe being one.


Newcomers to the market have also sought to expand their offer and so diversify income streams. This can be seen with The Light Cinema’s latest opening in Redhill, this headline letting negotiated by GCW on behalf of our client, Reigate and Banstead Borough Council.


Meanwhile, anchoring bowling lanes with cinema can be seen up and down the country, in and out of town.


However, The Light have taken inspiration from established leisure operators in major cities and incorporated axe throwing, shuffle boarding, electronic darts, ice free curling, and mini golf. Even flipping the original design to build a climbing wall.


It is no longer just about the cinema but now spending the day or linking future town centre shopping trips. This wider leisure offer meets the ever-demanding consumer needs, creating the night-time economy this development aimed to achieve.


While these activities become more mainstream, ‘gamification’ and nostalgic concepts are pushing the market forward: Monopoly Live and F1 Arcade now established operations. Roller discos making a comeback such as Paradise Skate World in Manchester.


Morphing further into Fairgame an indoor fairground concept in Canary Wharf, showing that if you pair unique immersive experiences with best-in-class street food it provides a solid platform to success.


These experiments make the test beds for the established large leisure occupiers to curate fantastic new concepts. With the oversupply of vacant department stores on the high street, it is providing the opportunities for well financed operators to create bespoke concepts together. Converting and combining large floor plates where the physical property allows. As seen at Gravity in Wandsworth, where the old Debenhams has turned into primarily an indoor go kart track with great success.


Other operators such as We Do Play, are pushing the boundaries further with their soon to be launching Guacabowlé, a Mexican themed (and very on-trend) bowling alley. 


Moving forward there is so much creativity pushing the boundaries in the leisure industry.  


Unless the supply of films can be more Barbie, and original, and less sequels, rather just upgrading to luxury seating, auditoriums may begin to be stripped back and converted into possible new leisure concepts.


Ultimately, you could end up chasing Indiana Jones yourself in a VR room. Cue the music!