Expert comment - Why is Harry Potter and other classic films back in UK cinemas?

Categories: School of Arts, Media and Creative Technology

Andy Willis, Professor of Film Studies at the University of Salford, writes about the trend of classic cinema blockbusters returning to UK cinema screens.

"This year marks the centenary of the birth of one of Hollywood’s most versatile directors, Sidney Lumet. To mark the occasion, Glasgow based film distribution company Park Circus are re-releasing Network (1976), one of his most acclaimed films, into cinemas.

This is typical of a rising trend in film distribution that has seen a raft of titles from art house classics, and cult favourites to much loved family films re-appear in UK cinemas. Indeed, Park Circus’ website is currently promoting the 30th anniversary of the Brandon-Lee starring cult classic The Crow (1994), the 25th anniversary of family friendly The Mummy (1999) and the 10th anniversary of the LBGTQ themed, miners’ strike set Pride (2014).

This trend for cinema re-releases is not something new. As part of its commitment to cinema, the BFI for example has consistently rereleased classics for a number of years. However, the trend has gained momentum over recent years. There seems to be a number of things driving this development. The post-COVID lack of new blockbuster titles saw mainstream cinemas look to tried and tested titles to fill their screens.

Notable examples of this include the re-appearance of the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) on Chinese cinema screens in 2019 as they re-opened after the virus. In order to offer something that made the re-release even more attractive it had been remastered in 3D and in IMAX versions. It worked, with the film making over 13.6 million U.S. dollars on the opening weekend of the re-release.

International distributors and exhibitors have taken note of this, drawing on nostalgia to drive a re-release market that now seems to be based on anniversaries of various kinds. This trend has also enabled cinemas to counter-act the current lack of blockbuster products arriving on screens due to the continued impact of the writers and directors strikes that took place in Hollywood during 2023.

As I write, a look at the schedule for the Trafford Centre Odeon reflects this trend. Alongside the latest in the Bad Boys franchise, Bad Boys Ride or Die, and an array of moderately performing new Hollywood films such as The Fall Guy, it is offering 20th anniversary screenings of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and the aforementioned 30th anniversary screenings of The Crow.

As the major film studios and the companies that handle their back catalogues realise that these already known works offer a comforting and reliable experience, and with some sort of anniversary around every corner, screenings of already seen and loved films seems to be a trend certainly set to continue."

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