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U.K. Cinema Admissions on Track to Hit a Nearly 50-Year High

Admissions for November point to a standout year

U.K. cinema admissions are hurtling toward their highest level in nearly 50 years, fueled by a diverse range of blockbusters that counteracted the English soccer team’s run to the World Cup semifinals, which made for a tough summer at the box office.

Figures released Friday showed 14.8 million movie admissions in November, making for a total of 161.3 million admissions for the first 11 months of 2018, compared to 153.5 million at the same point last year. That means that just over 14 million admissions in December – a number surpassed in each of the past five years – would be needed to beat the 1971 yearly tally of 176 million.

Despite some loud public grousing recently when it emerged that a top-tier ticket at the refurbished Odeon theater in Leicester Square would cost £40 ($50.75), Phil Clapp of the U.K. Cinema Assn. said that audiences are responding to a better cinema experience in Britain in general, spurred by investment by operators.

“The level of refurbishment of existing sites and opening of new ones in the last few years has undoubtedly re-energized the public’s love of cinema-going,” said Clapp, who heads the cinema association. “Whether through installing recliners in multiplexes, investing in big sound and vision, or opening local ‘boutique’ models, it all adds to the mix.”

There has also been a broader mix of blockbuster fare in 2018. Last year, four movies topped the £40 million mark at the British box office: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Beauty and the Beast” from Disney, “Dunkirk” from Warner Bros., and “Despicable Me 3” from Universal.

This year, there are already eight members of the £40-million-plus club, including “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Peter Rabbit” and “Black Panther.” New and recent releases “Aquaman,” “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” and “Mary Poppins Returns” are all strong contenders to join the club.

And with Britain in tumult as it gets set to leave the European Union in a few months, some industry watchers speculated that heading to the movies was one way that Brits were trying to block out the noise.

“There’s the feel-good/escapism factor, where you’d forgive the British public wanting to step away from wall-to-wall coverage of Brexit and its consequences for a couple of hours,” Clapp said.

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