blockbuster release schedule for the remainder of 2021 has provided a lease of life to South African cinemas. 

The reopening of cinemas in August last year was lacklustre due to limited blockbuster releases, and safety concerns as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. Film fans worldwide turned to streaming services with many films premiering online. Nowwith some big releases lined up for the remainder of the year, audiences finally seem to be ready to make their way back to the big screen. 

The South African box office 2020 report by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), released via social media on April 13, indicates that the total South African box office revenue for 2020 was R214 million. This is a significant decline from R1.2 billion in 2019. Such was the impact on cinemas that established South African chainSter-Kinekor, was forced into entering business rescue earlier this year. Ster-Kinekor’s head of marketing, Lynne Wylie, told Wits Vuvuzela that their cinemas have seen a “steady growth in attendances week on week” since their reopening on August 28, 2020, now that more content is now being released internationally. Wylie further added that Ster-Kinekor were following covid-19 protocols to ensure a safe environment for audiences“Due to access control, the ability to distance patrons accordingly, strict management of cleaning and no-touch points for purchase  the cinema remains one of the safest forms of entertainment,” Wylisaid.  

Killarney Cine Centre manager, Manesh Naidoo, said that the atmosphere at the cinema has been rather quiet since the reopening and sales have been greatly impacted despite support from their regular clientele. Naidoo added that despite Bollywood films bringing in most of the revenue at the Killarney cinema, it saw a strong turnout for Godzilla vs Kongthe latest release from Warner Bros and Legendary. “It’s great to see our Hollywood movie fans come through. It’s all about the product, the better the movie content, the more the industry will boom,” Naidoo said. 

Film enthusiast Haroon Wadee said that he believes a lack of marketing is one of the reasons he has not visited the cinema as often as he would like to: “We are not watching attractions at the movies like before. With Netflix and Showmax we do not see what is coming up at the movies and social media hasn’t really covered much of the new releases with the same enthusiasm as it did pre-covid,” he said. 

Another film fan, Nabeelah Patel, said that she has not visited the cinema since the surge in covid-19 numbers last year, and that streaming options have made it easier to watch movies safely at home. She added that despite really missing the big screen experience, the reason she has opted against cinema visits is because she does not want to put her family members with comorbidities at risk. Patel said she would continue using streaming platforms until the completion of the vaccine rollout. 

Currently, most cinemas are open on weekends only while some sites operate up to six days a week. Upcoming films currently on the release schedule include Jason Statham’s Wrath of Man (April 23), as well as the highly anticipated Fast and Furious 9 (June 25). Cinema chains have requested patrons to make their bookings online.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Cinemas have put strict covid-19 protocols in place to ensure a safe environment for audiences. Photo: Razeen Gutta