Q2’s box office wobble, the return of animation, and potential closures in the UK were on the agenda as distributors and exhibitors gathered in Barcelona for this year’s edition of CineEurope, the annual trade convention for cinema operators which ran June 17-20.

Moana 2 c Disney

Source: Disney

‘Moana 2’

Premium large format is our present and future

Premium large-format cinema (PLF) is not a new topic for the annual CineEurope trade convention in Barcelona. But there is no doubt that 2024 represented a breakthrough year in terms of the focus and emphasis – a reflection of the increasing slice of the box office revenue pie that PLF has been delivering globally.

Instead of featuring mainly as a topic in panel discussions, in sponsor reels and on the tradeshow floor, as was previously the case, this year the message came from studio leaders loud and clear in the slate presentations at CineEurope. The official convention of UNIC, the International Union of Cinemas, ends today (June 20) with an awards ceremony honouring achievements in exhibition and distribution.

“Available in all major premium large formats including Imax, 4DX, ScreenX, DBOX, ICE and Dolby Cinema” was an oft-heard refrain, as executives again and again assured the assembled cinema operators that one aspiring blockbuster after another would be formatted for PLF. Expect more exhibitors to go chasing premium ticket prices, as audiences increasingly show a willingness to pay more to have an experience they can’t have in the home.

Animation is back

Animation is back – Universal Pictures International EVP and managing director Niels Swinkels said exactly those words during the studio’s slick slate presentation, while offering congratulations to Disney for the $295m opening for Inside Out 2. Animation never went away, but was blown off course by Covid, especially after a series of films launched on digital or streaming – and there have been a number of under-performing titles since the pandemic, including Strange World and Wish.

Universal has Illumination’s Despicable Me 4 coming in July, and will be aiming to emulate the success of Inside Out 2 with the latest Minions-powered adventure. DreamWorks Animation’s The Wild Robot, based on the novel by Peter Brown, follows for Universal in October.

Paramount kicked off its own slate presentation with a focus on three animated titles – Transformers One, Paw Patrol 3 and the next Smurfs film – before pivoting to footage from live-action/animation hybrid Sonic The Hedgehog 3.

Disney has another likely hit coming this year – Moana 2 – with original tale Elio to follow next year. Mufasa: The Lion King qualifies as live-action, but since all the characters are digitally created, that has always struck commentators as a moot point. Toy Story 5 is coming in 2026.

Monday, day one, saw the Sony-owned Crunchyroll anime studio deliver a presentation for the first time at CineEurope – although the focus was less on upcoming Crunchyroll releases and more on anime as a category. Animation featured throughout CineEurope’s studio presentations, including those from Studiocanal, Warner Bros and Sony.

The elephant in the room

Recent editions of CineEurope have launched with a presentation from Comscore about year-to-date box office in Europe, showing how various countries are performing. That was absent this year, and the welcome message from UNIC president Phil Clapp and CEO Laura Houlgatte put the emphasis on a strong Q1, declining to dwell on the box-office slide widely experienced in April and May, as the US studio content funnel contracted as a result of last year’s strikes. Studio bosses made references to “challenges”, while Universal’s Swinkels stated: “More recently, uncertainty has resurfaced about cinemagoers’ choices and the state of the theatrical marketplace.”

The box-office wobble in Q2 this year might have cast gloom over CineEurope, had not the convention opened with news of Inside Out 2’s success. Relief quickly gave way to optimism, and Swinkels landed his message in the auditorium at International Barcelona Convention Centre (CCIB). “We will prove the naysayers wrong,” he said. “Now is the time to invest in the theatrical experience, have faith, double down, take risks and chase success.”

New cinema concepts

While PLF formats are clearly succeeding at the box office, CineEurope also chose to shine a spotlight on cinema operators who are succeeding with a variety of different models.

The panel event ‘New Cinema Concepts’ combined presentations from France’s Oma Cinema, B&B Theatres in the US, and Netherlands’ TheAnyThing. Oma’s stylish, futuristic design incorporates eight-person pods, which are attracting the upscale champagne-and-macaron customer. TheAnyThing is a private cinema concept that can be inserted into restaurants, hotels and existing cinemas, where customers can select any title from a list of more than 1,000. B&B is a growing, mid-size US chain that is succeeding with food and beverage and entertainment centres, including a diverse range of options such as pickleball courts.

Speaking to Screen International in April, new Cineworld boss Eduardo Acuna said his company was kicking the tyres on a whole range of entertainment options at over-screened venues, referencing pickleball courts. The success of rival exhibitor B&B suggests itself as inspiration for that remark.

Growth and contraction

While the likes of B&B and Oma are stimulating the market with fresh concepts, and in the UK Everyman continues to expand, the fact remains that cinema audiences overall have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. In the UK, they remain 30% down.

Industry veteran John Sullivan, who in 2024 opened the eight-screen Backlot Cinema in Blackpool, which includes an Imax screen and a heavy emphasis on food and beverage, invariably likes to say the unpopular thing, or pose the inconvenient question. At CineEurope, as a guest on a panel presented by the International Cinema Technology Association (ICTA), Sullivan said, “I think we’re coming in for a period where for the health of the industry in the UK, we’re going to see significant closures of screens.” Those remarks resonated in private conversations that ensued over the course of the convention.

Going into CineEurope, it seemed likely that news that Cineworld was looking at options for its UK operation would be a hot topic. In fact, that proved not to be substantially the case. Is Cineworld seeking to divest unprofitable sites, or is it sending a message to landlords that lease terms need to be revised? “It’s both,” suggested one UK operator.

Technology isn’t everything

At UNIC focus session ‘What’s Next in Cinema Technology’, Matt Eyre, COO at multiplex exhibitor Vue, made some candid remarks about the chain’s own experiences. Superb projection and sound should be the goal, but audiovisual quality wouldn’t be the first thing the customer notices. “They see and feel the seat,” he said. “If seats are old and uncomfortable, putting in recliners makes a huge difference.”

Most exhibitors simply aren’t in a position with current market conditions to replace xenon digital projectors – many of which are now approaching end of life cycle, having been installed 15 years ago – with new laser projectors across the whole estate. Financing plans will ease the transition.

Putting on a show

“What business are we in nowadays?” Dan Green, group director of digital at Vue, posed that question to the audience at the ‘Audience Building, Insights and Targeting’ focus session, presented by UNIC. No, not cinema – the answer is show business.

The one person who needs no persuading on that point is Paramount Pictures International president of international theatrical distribution Mark Viane, whose instincts for showmanship reliably enliven CineEurope each year. This year, Paramount constructed a massive Coliseum façade to envelop the auditorium where delegates watch the studio presentations, and began the presentation with a film featuring Viane as gladiator Marcus Vianus, together with various Paramount regional bosses – including the UK’s John Fletcher – as fellow gladiators facing certain death in the Coliseum.

Impressively filmed in the UK using a volume wall, the witty film raised the bar for showmanship, and left delegates wondering what Viane will come up with next year. The studio president returned to the stage at the end, having ditched his suit for his Marcus Vianus costume. “What we do at CineEurope echoes in eternity,” was his parting remark. Gladiator II – coming to cinemas in November and a key title for Paramount. Message received.