Popcorn, People and Public Space – Is The Cinematic Experience Changing?

Popcorn, People and Public Space – Is The Cinematic Experience Changing?

Image source: Flickr.com

I feel quite sad to admit that I have no recollection of my last cinematic experience. When I was younger, the cinema was one of my favourite places to be, and I could often be found there with my mum and two younger sisters. I have very fond memories of staring at the big screen in awe while enjoying a Chop Top and happily inhaling the aroma of fresh popcorn. Unfortunately, a lot of things change with time, and because of this, I will not be able to make it to the cinema this week.

Torsten Hargerstrand, a Swedish geographer, created time geography in the mid 1960s. Part of his research was to identify constraints that prevent people from moving freely throughout the world. He used his findings to show how human spatial activity is sometimes governed by limitations, and not by decision makers themselves. These constraints include:

Capability – Are there physical limits?

Authority – Are you allowed to be there?

Coupling – Can you get there at the right time?

I had to take all of the above constraints into consideration when deciding whether I would be able to make it to the cinema this week, and ultimately they dictated that it could not happen. For example, I was constrained by capability because of my current geographical location. I live in Helensburgh, which is located 34 kilometres north of the Wollongong CBD. The cinema in closest proximity to me is approximately 30 minutes away, and unfortunately, I found it difficult to sacrifice this time due to my current university commitments.

Sadly, being a university student also plays a strong role in determining my current socioeconomic status. Due to my low income, I am unable to splurge on things, including movie tickets. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald’s article ‘Movie tickets hit epic levels as they cross $20 barrier’, the cost of movie tickets increased significantly last year. Some cinemas in Australia are charging more than $20 for tickets, and I cannot afford that. I do not have adequate resources to purchase a movie ticket, so I therefore do not have the authority to enter a movie theatre. I believe that this is an extremely relevant constraint for many students and young people, especially in today’s society.

Trying to select a day to attend the cinema was another big issue for me, which means that I had trouble with coupling. I have my own car, but I cannot afford to pay for excess petrol and parking. I also prefer to go to the cinema with other people, but I found it difficult to sync my schedule with my friends and family’s schedules. One thing I like about myself is that I am organised when it comes to scheduling my time, so I had already committed to a number of other things. Sadly, this left me with no spare time to attend the cinema.

When I finally came to the conclusion that the odds of this cinematic excursion were not in my favour, I was not surprised. I knew I had been avoiding the cinema for a reason. I still enjoy seeing movies with my friends and family, but lack of money, time and access all prevent it from happening often.

However, I was surprised to discover that cinema attendance in Australia has not decreased as significantly as I expected. It decreased from 70% in 2013 to 68% in 2014, but that is only a two percent difference. As explained on the Screen Australia website, “the proportion of Australians attending the cinema at least once per year has averaged 69% since 2000, with an average of about eight visits per person. After last reaching a high of 72% in 2004, the attendance rate has averaged 68% in the subsequent eight years.”

Cinema attendance in Australia Image: http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/

According to a 2011 study conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, age is also a factor when determining cinema attendance. The graph below shows that cinema attendance has declined with age, and that between 2009-2010, children between the ages of 15-17 were more likely to attend the cinema than any other age group. 93% of this age group said that they had been to the cinema at least one time that year. A more recent (2015) study shows that these figures have not changed very much. In 2013-2014, 94% of children between the ages of 15-17 had visited the cinema that year, and they still had the highest attendance rate of all age groups. This could be because teenagers enjoy visiting the cinema with their friends, and they may not be restricted by Torsten Hargerstrand’s constraints.

Image: http://www.abs.gov.au/

Going to the cinema will probably always be a popular pastime, but I don’t think that cinema attendance rates in Australia are going to increase over the next 5 to 10 years. Netflix was launched in Australia this year, and it now has over 1 million subscribers. Australians have been able to stream movies for many years now, but Netflix makes it easier than ever before. Today, people are able to stream movies on Netflix for $12 a month, which costs less than it does to view one movie at a cinema. Furthermore, they are able to enjoy these films in their own private spaces, as opposed to the public space of a movie theatre.

Image: http://schmoesknow.com/
Image source: Flickr.com

Having said that, I don’t think that anything can quite compare to the physical atmosphere of a movie theatre. It feels exciting, it kills time and it’s a fun thing to do with the people you care about. The movie theatre may also be a public space, but once you’re in your own little world while watching the film, it has the uncanny ability to become your private space. I don’t believe that the experience of the cinema can be replaced, but certain constraints can have a heavy impact on cinema attendance.


Australian Bureau of Statistics 2015, Australians love going to the cinema, cat. No. 4114.0, accessed 26 August 2015,

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011, Cinema Attendance, cat. No. 4172.0.55.001, accessed 26 August 2015,

Maddox, G 2014, ‘Cinema ticket prices have just topped $20 in Sydney, with Melbourne soon to follow. Could this be a psychological tipping point?’, Sydney Morning Herald website, viewed 26 August 2015,

Screen Australia, Audiovisual Markets Audiences, accessed 26 August 2015,

The Media Store 2015, ‘Netflix hits 1 million users in Australia’, The Media Store website, viewed 26 August 2015,

Wikipedia search, ‘Time Geography’, Wikipedia, viewed 26 August 2015,

Wikipedia search, Torsten Hargerstrand’Wikipedia, viewed 26 August 2015,


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