Box Office and Beyond: the cultural, social and economic impact of cinema

Changing audiences, evolving technological landscapes and, of course, Covid: much has happened, in the past years, that has impacted the cinema landscape. But where, exactly, do we stand as an industry? To find out, the three leading institutions regarding European cinemas, the CICAE (International Confederation of Arthouse Cinemas), UNIC (International Union of Cinemas) and Europa Cinemas joined forces with research agency Omdia Consulting to gather insights and offer an analysis on the role of the arthouse cinemas and their social, cultural, and economic impact.

The result of the study is “Box Office and Beyond”, a groundbreaking report that allows a refocus on the importance of cinemas as crucial hubs for culture and the health of the audiovisual ecosystem. The study shows that while opportunities to watch films outside of the cinema are multiplying and indeed are being used more often, the unique experience of the cinema space remains more crucial and in demand than ever, and that cinemas retain their role of curators and trendsetters for at-home film consumption. Three areas highlight the tremendous impact of cinemas: 

The cultural importance of cinemas

Cinemas, especially independent and arthouse cinemas, are, first and foremost places of culture. Cinema is the newest art form, barely 150 years old, yet it ushered in the screen-based revolution of new media and continues to act as a bridge between the older form of arts and the new generation of entertainment.

Cinemas’ power is due to the exceptional way to experience storytelling they offer, an important formative experience which also grants cinemas their educational power, be it for children being able to see their first impactful stories on the big screen or adults being shown stories they would not otherwise access. Cinemas are the bridge between local audiences and global
perspectives by curating content, especially from underrepresented groups whose perspective get a chance to reach an audience.

The cultural relevance of cinemas is also due to the anticipation it builds. This helps films be successful and enter the Zeitgeist: films would have a harder time being watched by so many and be remembered without the expectation of seeing them collectively as they release.

Finally, it also allows a mediation between all of those forms of art and entertainment by opening its spaces to more than films: most arthouse cinemas show opera, theatre, book readings and many more, helping those less accessible form of arts reaching a much larger audience. Cinemas are also places of immersion. While it makes the best of new technologies, the principle of turning of your phone and sitting quietly while a story unfolds retains a power unmatched: the possibility to cut oneself off the daily noise and be fully present in what is happening, an experience both individual and collective.

It also offers the possibility to keep the story alive after the movie: by discussing it with fellow filmgoers or taking advantage of related events such as a Q&A with the director, or a thematic dinner. Cinema-going is more than watching a film, it is immersing oneself in it completely, which is almost impossible to do at home.

The economic importance of cinema

The economic role of cinemas is, firstly, defined by their role as employers: just between France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the UK, more than 100 000 people work directly in cinema houses. This figure is very much in line with other strands of the film industry and does not account for the many jobs created by the cinemas, notably all service providers which businesses are inseparable from cinemas. Notably, cinemas are places of innovation and are constantly equipping themselves with new technologies, as is easily proven by the gradual switch from black and white films on film rolls to laser screening technologies, not to mention 3 and 4D equipment for instance.

Cinemas are also vital for the success of any film. As curators with unique connection to their audiences and the last mile to these audiences they make the success of a film throughout exploitation stages. Nothing has illustrated this fact more vividly than the experiments during and shortly after the Covid-pandemic that saw the release of films solely on streamers, leading to the inevitable realisation that those movies fared worse than the ones benefiting from a theatrical release first. And finally, cinemas are much more transparent than other avenues for films: most streamers, for instance, do not publish the amount of view per films, making cinemas the only reliable metrics for the commercial success of a film.

On a related note, cinemagoers are also a huge part of the economic impact of cinemas. They are overwhelmingly more likely to consume other forms of media (53% of cinemagoers buy regularly VOD content, against 27% for non cinema-goers). And even outside of medias, a trip to the cinema encourages spending on other goods and services: a Belgian figure showed that33,5% of cinemagoers declare that they will eat or drink out on their way to or after a trip to the cinema, building an important consumer base for other businesses and playing a key social role.

The social importance of cinema

The social role of cinemas might actually be its most important: in a time where the importance of a third place (one that is neither the workplace nor the home) is both being recognised by social and health sciences and torn down by processes of gentrification and the capitalistic closing of non-commercial spaces, cinemas offer an affordable space to spend time with friends or meet new people, helped by the conversations often sparked by the movie screened.

Overall, cinemas have been shown to reduce loneliness in their communities, allowing people to come together. Mental health is not where the cinema’s health benefit stops: a study showed a 93% reduction of stress and anxiety in patients whose hospital offered film screenings.

Cinemas are the places of many first experiences: they offer teenagers and young adults places that are affordable and away from parental supervisions to go on dates, or simply hang out with friends in a mediated environment.

Finally, cinemas are also spaces of civic pride: they are architectural landscapes, community centres, social hubs. In the UK 63% of respondents to a study declared that their local cinema is part of their pride in the place where they live. Interestingly, this was exemplified in an uncommon way: during the Paris riots of 2023 in the Montreuil suburb, the Cinema le Melies, known for its openness to the city and its inhabitants, was one of the very few buildings left untouched by the rioters.


Cinemas remain a pivotal place for public life in the 21stcentury. With their innovative power and continued, tailod-made public support, arthouse cinemas will retain their pivotal role as the “Last Mile” for any film to reach their audiences, as arbiters of diverse culture, and as crucial communal hubs.

Stay in touch!