Buckingham Palace with crowds on the Mall

As Warner Bros, one of the world’s leading film and entertainment companies, celebrates its 100th anniversary, it’s interesting to trace the story of cinema attendance in the UK over the same period.

The number of ways in which one can watch a film has increased many times over. In the 1920s a trip to the picture palace was your only choice. Options evolved into TV, then recorded platforms such as VHS and DVD, through to today’s multiple streaming platforms. Given which, it’s notable that the number of cinema screens in the UK now, at over 4,000, is similar to the number in the 1920s. Even more striking is the fall and subsequent rise during the years between.

Chart of number of cinema screens in the UK, 1927 to 2017Source: UK Cinema Association

TGI data held within AMSR on live cinema audiences since the 1970s reflect this pattern. They show significant decline from 1972 to the low point of 1987 (a drop from 60% to 31% in adults who ever went to the cinema) followed by an equally dramatic recovery. By the 2000s the total audience was over 60% again; the 2017 figure was 79%. The proportion attending at least once a month shows a similar trend: 5% in 1987 has grown to 14%.

Chart of cinema-going among UK adults, 1972-2017Source: Kantar TGI

Among the most frequent visitors, we see interesting variations by age group. Younger adults (aged 15-34) remain the largest part of the regular cinema-going crowd: over 3,100,000 fall into this category today compared with about 1,900,000 in 1987. But the bulk of the growth has come from older groups. The number of 35-54s has increased eight-fold, from 330,000 to 2,780,000, and the number of frequent attendees aged 55+ is up by a factor of 15, from 99,000 to 1,462,000.
Of course, the 15-34 year-olds of 1987 now populate these older age groups, so perhaps they never fell out of the habit of going to the cinema. Warner Bros and the other film companies have done well in continuing to produce output that appeals to this cohort. And by simultaneously building younger audiences they have regenerated an industry that not so long ago seemed to be heading 20,000 leagues under the sea.

Chart showing UK cinema-goers by age, 1987-2017Source: Kantar TGI


TGI (Target Group Index) is a continuous survey which has been carried out in Great Britain since 1969, based on 25,000 adults per annum, who provide information on their use of all major products, brands and services. Media exposure, attitudinal and demographic data are also included. Kantar, who own and operate TGI, have made major donations of data to AMSR. To explore the TGI archive within AMSR, click here: Target Group Index – The AMSR Online Archive (oclc.org)

Contributed by Geoff Wicken
Date posted: 24th March 2023


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