Love 'em or loathe 'em, there is no doubting the impact that the arrival of the multiplexes has had on the UK's movie going scene. Since the first opened in Milton Keynes in November 1985, well over 300 have opened their doors. And the public have responded: annual attendances had dropped from a high of 1,635m, in 1946, to a nadir of 54m in 1984, but the multiplexes have played their part in luring patrons back and annual attendances are now up to the 160m mark.
The development of the multiplexes (which I, and the industry, define as purpose-built cinemas with five or more screens) has, I would suggest, been more interesting than might at first be thought. While too many, from the outside, remain architecturally uninspiring, inside there has been a quiet revolution going on. It's fascinating to see how interior design has moved on, from the first generation - state of the art at the time - to today’s ever more luxurious auditoriums, with their stepped stadium seating, wider seats, greater leg room and ever larger screens.
This development is, of course, ongoing. In June 2011 Cineworld added three luxury, premium price and premium service “Screening Rooms” alongside their existing multiplex at Cheltenham, while Odeon’s luxury concept is “The Gallery”, discrete areas at the rear of existing auditoriums, and Vue introduced separate luxury screens called ‘Scene’ at Stratford (Westfield). To enhance the individual filmgoer’s experience ‘DBOX’ seats have been installed in selected cinemas by Cineworld and Odeon. These ‘react’ to the film, bringing a more immersive experience (and can be switched off if the experience becomes too immersive!). Vue pitched in with their innovative 'Evolution' concept, which enhanced the usual luxury seating with bean bags and settees. Showcase went even further with their Cinema De Lux branded multiplexes, which offer an exceptionally high standard of luxury throughout, together with concierge services and restaurant booking facilities of the type offered by top class hotels!
On the screen, far from being a gimmick, with the digital revolution 3D is most definitely here to stay. And screens are getting ever larger, with circuits keen to return to the ‘immersive experience’ once provided by systems such as Cinerama. Cineworld, Odeon, Showcase and Empire have embraced IMAX, while Vue and Omniplex have introduced their own brands, VueXtreme and OmniplexMAXX.
Multiplexes are also making their way into our cultural consciousness. When the makers of Popcorn (2006), a romantic comedy about a boy who takes a job at a cinema to woo an usherette, wanted a suitable location they turned to one with which their target audience was most likely to be familiar - and filmed in the iconic thefilmworks (now Odeon) multiplex at Greenwich in East London. Who knows, perhaps in 20 years’ time cinema enthusiasts will be viewing Popcorn in the hushed, reverent tones reserved today for the likes of Cinema Paradiso and The Smallest Show on Earth!
An interesting development from 2014 has seen art-house circuits Curzon, Everyman and Picturehouse opening cinemas with five or more screens. While not ‘multiplexes’ in the traditional sense of the word, they obviously meet the criteria of being purpose-built, with five or more screens, and so they are included here.
This project arose out of a desire to make some sense out of the multiplex buying and selling and consequential re-branding that has taken place since 1985. Initially drawn up for my own enjoyment, the listing received favourable comments and I thought a wider audience might appreciate it. I am therefore pleased to present it here. I should add a word of caution, however. The information has been compiled from many sources, but its complete accuracy cannot, of course, be guaranteed. Where sources differ, I have made a judgement one way or the other, or simply show alternatives.
Especially because of this, I welcome comments, criticisms and, especially, corrections. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From multiplex auditorium data extracted for his Cinemas in the UK
listing, Jeremy Perkins has produced these fascinating 'top five'
lists. Subject to the usual health warnings, he has kindly allowed me to
quote them here:
1 Vue, Star City, Birmingham: 25 2 Vue, Printworks, Manchester: 23
3= Cineworld, Sheffield: 20
3= Odeon, Trafford Centre, Manchester: 20
5 Cineworld, Renfrew Street, Glasgow: 18
1 Vue, Star City, Birmingham: 5,079
2 Cineworld, Sheffield: 4,9683 Vue, Printworks, Manchester: 4,474 4 Cineworld, Renfrew Street, Glasgow: 4,242
5 Odeon, Trafford Centre, Manchester: 4,018
1 Cineworld O2, Greenwich: 750
Sheffield: 691 (Screen 7)
3 Cineworld, Renfrew Street, Glasgow: 663 (Screen 3)
4 Cineworld, Bolton: 626 (Screen 7)
5 Cineworld, Nottingham: 590 (Screen 10)
The UK's multiplexes (which include, for completeness, the Cineworld in the Channel Islands) are listed under their current operator.
A narrative showing the background to each current circuit/operator is followed by the cinemas themselves. Individual cinema entries show: location/number of screens/opening date and, where appropriate, closing date or other change (no fewer than 25 have closed over the years, often victims themselves of an even newer multiplex!). Where cinemas have transferred between operators that are still in the multiplex business, they appear in the lists for both, with the acquisition date (not the original opening date) shown, in square brackets, in the current operator's list. However, where cinemas have transferred from an operator that is no longer in existence the narrative about that operator is contained (in italics) within the narrative about the current owner.
There are 389 multiplexes on the list. The 31 that have closed leave 358 still operating.
The list is current up to 14 November 2021.