Love Cinemas, Actually

Saving movie theaters needs to be about more than nostalgia...
Hugh Grant Rails Against Closure Of Local Picturehouse Cinema: “Let’s All Sit At Home And Watch ‘Content’… While Scrolling”
Hugh Grant Rails Against Closure Of Local Picturehouse Cinema: “Let’s All Sit At Home And Watch ‘Content’… While Scrolling”

The hits keep coming – or rather, not enough hits have been coming – for Picturehouse, it seems:

Hugh Grant has spoken out against the closure of his local Picturehouse Cinema in southwest London on the eve of screens going black at the venue which has been home to a cinema theater for nearly one hundred years.

Picturehouse, the UK boutique cinema arm of ailing global exhibitor Cineworld, announced the closure on July 11 of its Fulham Road cinema theater, last month.

Grant, who lives close to the cinema theater and is regularly captured by paparazzi whizzing about the area on his Vespa, lamented the move.

“Fulham Rd cinema closing after 94 years. Strangely unbearable. Let’s all sit at home and watch « content » on « streaming ». While scrolling. Miserable face emoji,” the Wonka and Love Actually star wrote on his @HackedOffHugh X account.

Incidentally, I also happen to live relatively close to this particular cinema. And I've been there a number of times in recent months. And so I can tell you first-hand that a big part of the problem in this particular instance is that it wasn't a particularly nice cinema. It was fine. But nothing to write home about – and, if I'm being honest, not much to leave home for. There are some food and drink options, but they weren't particularly good. But most importantly, the theaters themselves were just okay. Clean enough (not always true with AMC in the US, for example) but pretty modest in size and comfort.

I write this not to be cruel. Not to dance on the grave of yet another cinema. But instead to point out the very real problems such cinemas face. In 2024, with all the great movie-watching options at home, and really, all the other entertainment options in general – per Grant's "Let's all sit at home and watch content on streaming. While scrolling." – movie theaters need to be above and beyond a better experience than the alternatives. And most of them, such as this particular Picture House, were simply not set up for that new reality.

Yes, you can (and should) argue that part moviegoing should be a communal experience. That's good as home-viewing can't replicate that, aside from with your family. But you have to acknowledge that the home-viewing experience has some very real benefits as well in comfort, convenience, and of course, price. Snide remarks about how it's lame compared to the theatrical experience are not going to fix anything. They're also just not true for most people. Most people would prefer to sit at home watching content on streaming while scrolling. How do I know this? Because all of these movie theaters are going out of business. With more to come.

Hugh Grant may not prefer this, but he's also quite conflicted on the matter, of course. I'm far less conflicted and I would also prefer to go to a movie theater – even just an okay one – versus watching a movie at home. But I'm both realistic and trying to offer up solutions. Those, sadly, are harsh.

I believe the theatrical component is and should remain an important part of movies. But movie theaters need to be completely re-thought for the 21st century. And that starts with closing a massive number of screens. There are simply too many for the modern age with the new economics of the business. And again, most are ill-equipped to compete with home-viewing. You're paying a lot of money to travel to sit in a room with a screen that in some cases may not be much larger than the one in your living room (and with Vision Pro, Meta Quest, and the like, it's actually a smaller screen in virtual terms).

At least half the screens need to be shuttered – and honestly, it's probably more than that. Those that remain need to be retrofitted to be movie palaces. From screen to sound to seats, they need to offer the best experience. Add in fantastic food and drinks to make it a true night out (or even long lunch!). Fewer theaters and screens will create an aura of exclusivity which simply doesn't exist right now. And dynamic pricing should come about to meet the moment.

This all necessarily means that not all movies will go to theaters, of course. But that's already been the case for years and years, streaming just ended that illusion. Only films specifically suited for movie theaters should play there. Shocking, I know. This doesn't just mean big blockbusters, by the way. It can also be movies which have breakthrough/zeitgeist potential. Or sequels/re-runs of original hits. And, as blasphemous as it may sound, even many of today's fantastic television shows should play in movie theaters when the moment warrants it – think: the House of the Dragon season finale and the like.

Also, IMAX. There's a reason this current situation seems to be working for them. Do you want to see Dune at a mediocre Picture House or on an IMAX screen? F1?

All of this is much easier said than done, of course. But it's all right there. Step one, sadly, is shutting down some of the theaters which simply can't support the modernization of the art form. Speaking of House of the Dragon...

A raft of local film and TV celebrities joined Grant in his lament in the comments section of his post, including actors James Dreyfus (House of the Dragon) and Emmerdale and Coronation Street actor Michael Warburton, who seen most recently in Netflix’s The Strays, as well as broadcaster Terry Christian.

“Lived around the corner from a cinema as a kid – like something magic,” wrote Christian. “We used to walk around and look at the stills of what was showing and imagine. Should protect them like the French do.”

No. No. No. No. No. No. We absolutely should not "protect them like the French do." The French do a lot of dumb things from a business perspective and all of this needs to be done from a business perspective. Otherwise it's untenable. Cinema will be "protected" until some new politician comes around to cut costs and "unprotect" it.

“Once these palaces are gone they don’t come back people!,” chimed Warburton.

To paraphase a movie, "if you build it, they will come." But also to update it, "if you build it beautiful and correctly, they will come." Interesting to hear him refer to this particular Picture House as a "palace" though. Honestly, the best thing about it is its facade. From the outside, it looks like a movie palace. It's the inside that's the issue. And so it's great to hear they aim to keep that external element:

Martin’s Properties, which owns the Fulham Road Picturehouse building, told Deadline in June that it was in the early stages of a consultation process with the local council and community.

“Among our priorities will be to preserve and protect the Art Deco façade of the building on Fulham Road, and we are also exploring options for retaining some cinema use,” said the company.

Someone should step in to save the building as a cinema, keep the facade, and gut the inside to rework it as a 21st century cinema. Might I propose Hugh Grant?1

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1 Incidentally, one of the best local cinemas in central London is Electic Cinema -- the best of which happens to be in... Notting Hill.