Cinema attendance is increasing, but not yet at pre-Covid levels

During 2022, people in the Netherlands went to the cinema on average 1.4 times per person, a figure almost doubling the per capita attendance of 2021 (0.8 times). The latest statistics of cinema and audiences, released in January by Film Distributors Netherlands (FDN) and the Dutch Association of Cinemas and Film Theaters (NVBF), show that the industry is finally recovering after two years of dramatically low numbers due to the Covid crisis and lockdown measures. Although attendance levels are not still as high as they were before the pandemic (in 2019 attendance was 2.2 per capita), they point to a slow stabilization, with an outlook to 2023  that promises exciting releases and a renovated enthusiasm for cinema outings, as well as new economic challenges.

An FDN report declared that 2021 was a “historically bad year for Dutch cinemas and film theaters,” with attendance numbers that had not been so low since 1992. This is not surprising, given that during 2020 and 2021 lockdowns, cinemas were closed for a total of 39 weeks. While in 2019 cinemas and film theaters received 38 million visits, for 2020 that number was only 16.8 million, and by 2021 it lowered even further to 14.2 million visits – a decrease of 62.3% in 2021 compared to 2019.

For 2022, attendance went up to 25 million visits. Dutch cinemas sold 75% more tickets than the year before, and in exchange received 258 million euros, an 81% improvement (which in reference to attendance is explained by a price increase of 3%). According to FDN, other European countries such as Germany, France and Spain also saw lower numbers in 2022 compared to pre-Covid years, but, as pointed put by Leo Bankersen in Cultuurpers, Dutch cinemas and film theaters recovered slightly faster in 2022 than other countries in Europe and even the United States. Bankersen also notes that the cinema calendar of 2022 had only 11 months instead of 12, given that the last lockdown was lifted by the end of January and during February some restrictions still remained, so the recovery could have been even stronger than the numbers alone seem to suggest.

Major international film releases helped bring attendance back during 2022, like Top Gun: Maverick, which by itself brought 1.3 million visits to cinemas, followed by Minions: The Rise of Gru and Spiderman: No Way Home. The holiday season was mostly carried by Avatar: The Way of Water, bringing 877.000 visitors to theaters. Dutch films also contributed to the recovery, and attracted 4 million visits to cinemas (a market share of 16%), with titles like Soof 3 (440.000 visits), Bon Bini Holland 3 (440.000) and Costa!! (261.000). For the Christmas holidays, the Dutch comedy De Tatta’s managed to bring in 192.000 visitors in quite a short time.

According to FDN, from the point of view of major releases, 2023 promises to be very positive, with international titles like The Super Mario Movie, The Little Mermaid, Dune: Part Two, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, The Fabelmans and The Whale hitting theaters throughout the year, as well as Dutch titles like Klem and Grenzeloos Verraad. However, 2023 also promises to be challenging for the industry, with consumers having less money to spend, which may still precent many to return to the cinemas. Perhaps the biggest challenge ahead is that the energy crisis is tripling electricity costs, and most businesses in the film sector are not eligible for government compensation. With increasing wages and general prices, economic balance will be overall tougher for the industry to achieve.

Nevertheless, a cinema outing remains one of the cheapest outings in 2023. Long ago are the golden ages of cinema attendance records of the 1940s and 1950s, but even in the current time of flooding streaming services and cultural media options, going to the cinema is proving to be a competitive source of entertainment, solace and interest for mass audiences today, and most likely for a long time to come.

Written by Juan Álvarez Umbarila