WELL, what a year that was!
For all the talk of ‘the end of Cinema’ that some had started 2018 with, it turned out to be not just a bumper year for cinema attendances, but a benchmark year.
All around the world, a largely similar pattern emerged – in terms of coarse metrics, 2018 saw more bums on seats than seen in more than 20 years.
Despite more than a few turkeys this year (of which, more anon), 2018 saw some record attendances and significant box office hauls for the victors.
Analysts and pundits had started the year on uncertain terms, with the fragmentation of media browsing habits over the past few years (the rise of the so-called Netflix Generation) casting a pall over cineplexes the world over.
However, if anything, Cinema bounced back as a roaring success this year – so much so that 2018 even saw the streaming services further dip a toe into the big-screen world.
Netflix led the field here, with a number of simultaneous launches on both cinema and home screens, with limited big screen runs adding a critical cachet to some of its glossier projects.
Indeed, there was something of a symbiotic relationship going on between the big and small screens this year, with some surprises in store as films which were destined for cinemas unexpectedly veered onto Netflix and other streaming content providers.
This wasn’t always a success – for example, the execrable The Cloverfield Paradox was an unmitigated disaster, quickly showing why it had been dumped from its planned cinema release onto Netflix instead, and it wasn’t the only such cinema disaster to follow this route.
However, the success of such experimentation also sent a clear message to filmmakers – namely, that audiences will clearly accept quality content that’s simultaneously accessible on big and small screens alike, setting up a content delivery relationship that could be very interesting in coming years.
Of course, that evolution of content provision was just one aspect of 2018’s record success, which also marked a subtle yet key shift in media consumption patterns.
This year also saw a significant number of big-budget blockbusters alongside a plethora of critically acclaimed films.
That’s true of any year, of course, but 2018’s offerings seemed to resonate much more than usual with global audiences.
A particular shout-out has to go to the all-conquering Black Panther – a film impossible to imagine being made just five years ago, but very much a film that rode the zeitgeist to smash-hit success.
Only a fool would take the success of one film as being cast-iron evidence of a new cinema wave; still, Panther’s runaway international success sent a clear signal: give audiences a great film with interesting, non-Caucasian characters, and it’ll play well everywhere.
Panther was a welcome step away from the bog-standard, almost exclusively white superhero genre that’s become somewhat old-hat of late, and all of the usual Hollywood excuses about audiences rejecting ‘ethnic’ films crumbled away like dust.
Although nowhere near as successful, Crazy Rich Asians also helped to send a signal about providing alternative stories in mainstream big budget films, with Asians proving another global hit.
It’ll be interesting to see if a more nuanced approach to exploring global characters and more diverse stories than usual creeps in to Western film fare in 2019.
Moving on and away from such a philosophical focus on how 2019’s films could play out, a look back at 2018 saw an unusually high amount of great films released.
Aside from all the usual blockbusters and money-makers (the likes of Black Panther, Mission Impossible Fallout, A Star is Born, Aquaman, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Venom, Bohemian Rhapsody, Incredibles 2), there were tons of other, critically lauded films to enjoy.
Audiences lapped up the likes of A Quiet Place, Hereditary, Game Night and many more – their box office takes were nowhere near that of the marquee films, but for anyone bemoaning the death of good films, there were a lot of great films to prove them wrong this year.
There were also – dear God – some truly, truly atrocious films inflicted on audiences in 2018.
While some ferocious flops (again, Cloverfield) were kicked straight onto streaming sites by panicking studios, some big screen audiences had to sit through the likes of A Wrinkle In Time, Fifty Shades Freed, and Robin Hood, and many other grade-A turkeys. You have our sympathies.
Ultimately however, after such a bumper year of great hits (and despite some spectacular duds), it’s clear that Cinema as a medium is very much alive and well.
And, to end on a positive note, 2018 also saw the truly terrible Transformers franchise put on hiatus – this being so, I can look ahead to 2019 and very cheerfully say: “Happy New Year, everyone!”