Cinemas offer the premier movie experience, although younger audiences stay away

New research explains just what makes a great cinema experience.

New research explains just what makes a great cinema experience. Photo: Getty

Summer’s here, the school holidays are upon us and blockbuster movies hit the screens.

As Australians find themselves faced with a feast of movie offerings,  new research reveals what we want from a trip to the cinema.

There are a few surprises.

When it comes to getting bums on seats, it’s more than just seeing the latest film that gets audiences excited, said chief investigator Dr Ruari Elkington, of Queensland University of Technology’s Digital Media Research Centre.

“That’s absolutely part of it … but it’s far richer than that. It’s the experience that surrounds and bookends going to the cinema – that’s the appeal,” Dr Elkington said.

“Despite all the great advances in home cinema, nothing really beats the size, the scale, the immersion of both the screen and the sound. That’s a big drawcard,”  he said.

Dr Elkington said audiences “subconsciously desire” coming together to share an experience at the movies.

Audiences “subconsciously desire” coming together to share an experience. Photo: Getty

“When people are in the cinema together, they laugh harder at comedies, they cry harder at sadder films, our heartbeats will even sync up in time for certain aspects within a film,” he said.

“We have a deep physiological response to cinema that is part of that collective viewing experience.”


James Cameron’s long-awaited Avatar sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water hits the big screens next week.

It is being heralded as a tour de force, the sort of big spectacle cinematic experience that can only be fully appreciated by sitting in a darkened room and letting yourself be carried away.

These are the kinds of movies that Australian audiences flock to see, Dr Elkington said.

“Those big tentpole blockbuster experiences have been part of the mix since movies began,” he said.

“Many people who don’t really go to the movies will go and see a film like Avatar because it will become a cultural phenomenon and a kind of moment in-time for cinema-going.”

The Avatar sequel is expected to become a ‘moment in-time’ for cinema-going. Photo: AAP

Dr Elkington is somewhat concerned about the continuing rise of the blockbuster spectacle.

“My fear is that that’s a direction or a way that audiences will start conceiving of cinema.

“Some of my most memorable, similar experiences have not been those huge films.

“Often it’s sitting alone in a cinema for a small film. But it’s that kind of immersion, drama, and those human stories that are so more affecting.”

Across the great divide

Regular cinema goers in Australia tend to be aged over 50, the survey found.

Dr Elkington says this may be because they have more disposable income and more time.

That’s a concern for the cinema industry. The question is how to get Millennials and Gen-Zers into cinemas?

Big films like Avatar and the Marvel franchise instalments have a role in cultivating younger audiences and getting them into the habit of going to the cinema, Dr Elkington said.

“COVID broke people out of lots of habits, good and bad. And there is a concern that people have fallen out of the habit of going to the cinema.

“Now what’s going to get them back in is a steady pipeline of really good films and the opportunity to go see films.”

Culturally we tend to default to the idea that the most important thing when going to the movies is the big screen – the big screen experience.

And while that’s still a drawcard, survey results show audiences really want top-notch sound.

Sound reasoning

“Home cinemas are a wonderful thing. But it’s really difficult to recreate immersive soundscapes at home. That sound stage is what people respond to,” said Dr Elkington.

If there’s ever a gap between what people say and what they do, it’s evident at the candy bar.

Researchers spoke with audiences who overwhelmingly said they wanted more options – healthy options – at the movies.

Not so, say cinema operators.

They claim that moviegoers spend their money on treats, despite being consistently offered healthier options.

“I think that does speak to the treat element,” Dr Elkington said.

“It’s a special occasion when we go out to watch a movie. People do want that choc-top or that frozen Coke.”


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