The early 2000s saw the “Celtic Tiger” economic boom sweep Ireland.
Twenty years on, and it’s the country’s thriving film culture that is wowing the world. With a robust, post-pandemic box office recovery, the highest cinema admissions in Europe (3.3 admissions per capita vs a European average of 1.5 pc), and the country’s current domination of the film awards fuelling domestic interest, this is an exciting time for DX to explore entering the Republic of Ireland (ROI).
We see a vibrant cinema culture that’s ready to grow and innovate its existing movie-going experience further. That's why we partnered with Emma Jamieson to uncover more about the Irish cinema scene:
A quick guide to the current Irish cinema scene
From family-owned cinema chains to “rebel” independents cultivating strong local community relationships, this small, but thriving nation has the most active cinema-going population in Europe.
UNIC reports that Ireland had one of the strongest box-office recoveries in Europe in 2022, at +93% from 2021. In comparison, the UK box office grew by 62% while Europe as a whole experienced an estimated 56% growth in 2022 compared to the previous year.
The ROI has almost 80 cinemas and just over 530 screens for a population of 5 million, so one screen per 9,500 inhabitants. Again as a comparison, screen density in the UK stands closer to one screen per 15,000 inhabitants, while the European average is closer to one screen per 16,000 inhabitants. These numbers give you an idea of the diversity of cinema-going experiences available to Irish film fans!
Alongside major chains like Odeon, Vue and Cineworld, Ireland also boasts its own native chains Omniplex, IMC Cinema Group and Movies@, all of which are still family owned. In addition, there is a robust independent cinema scene, from Dublin’s Stella Cinemas, to the Light House Cinema in Dublin and Pálás in Galway both operated by Irish film studio and production company Element Pictures, to multi-arts centres like Triskel Arts in Cork.
Cinemas connecting with the community
These Irish indies are exploring creative ways to connect with their audiences, from Light House Cinema’s Film Book Club and year-long, retrospective Hollywood Babylon season to Stella Cinema’s elegant Cocktail Club and afternoon golden-age retrospectives catering to a higher-end audience looking for a boutique experience.
Most recently, the Light House Cinema has played host to more expansive cinema experiences. A well-known Irish dark-folk band, Lankum, premiered an audio-visual piece of art created as an extension of their latest album launch, running alongside sold out shows at a popular music venue.
The Stella Cinema Ranelagh, which celebrated 100 years in January of this year, seamlessly combines high-end dining and drinking, with its rooftop bar and location within a luxury hotel the ideal surrounds for its original art-deco, red and gold screening room with plush, mid-century sofa seating. In this centenary year, the Stella Ranelagh is launching a membership for the first time - starting with an exclusive list of just 100 members who will unlock access to previews, events and value-added offers.
Outside of the traditional cinema space, there are a number of Irish companies like Scenic Cinema who bring immersive movie experiences to unusual locations, such as screening the Shawshank Redemption inside a historic jail in Cork, or The Pop Up Movie Club who show themed movies at Christmas or Valentine’s, etc, in community market spaces or parks.
What about the Irish “red carpet” boom?
You probably have noticed the ubiquitous presence of Irish talent in the last 6 months, from actors to VFX to producers, leading the nominations at almost every major film awards this season (14 nominations alone at the Oscars!).
For the first time ever, an Irish-language film is nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature, signalling a wider revival in Irish indigenous culture across the country.
Irish star of the 2022 indie hit “Aftersun”, Paul Mescal went from unheard-of newcomer in 2020’s BBC adaptation of Normal People to awards galore, a lead role on stage in London’s West End and upcoming roles in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator sequel in just three years.
His presence at every film-event and glamorous bash over the past six months, alongside the ‘old guard’ such as Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Martin MacDonagh is part of a wider, concerted marketing effort by Irish entertainment agents and cultural organisations to utilise the country’s stars as unofficial “ambassadors”, positioning the country as outgoing, supportive of young talent and creatively flourishing, whilst continuously reminding the world of its long film legacy.
But it’s not just the celebrity talent.
Behind the scenes, production and technical crews from the Republic of Ireland have played major parts in some of last year’s biggest movies, with Richard Baneham nominated for Best VFX for Avatar: The Way of the Water and Jonathan Redmond for Best Editing for super-hit biopic Elvis.
Bucking the pandemic trend that has seen cinema closures spike across Europe, the Republic of Ireland has seen at least four new cinemas opening in the past couple of years, including The Square, Dublin (part of the Movies@ chain) with more community cinemas being developed such as in Westmeath, and a state-of-the-art new Omniplex set to open this year in Drogheda’s Scotch Hall. All this in a challenging recovery and energy crisis context.
What’s the secret sauce that’s caused this impressive Irish resilience and recovery in a cinema industry still finding its feet after the pandemic, in an increasingly challenging market?
Industry experts will cite the country’s innovative and generous tax incentives, strong investment in local production, training, and Irish-language cultural output and an excellent global reputation forged by famous talent, both on-screen and off, that serve as cultural ambassadors between Ireland and Hollywood - figures such as Liam Neeson or Pierce Brosnan.
Ireland has long been a popular filming location for international productions, being the backdrop for Star Wars, Saving Private Ryan, and some of the Harry Potter films.
In 2021, the Republic of Ireland’s Film, TV and Animation sector was worth over €692 million, comprising 11,960 jobs by way of direct, indirect and induced employment across the economy. (Screen Ireland)
A large part of this result is simply down to investment, the sector has seen funding increased 89% from €20m in 2019 to €37.9m in 2023. Coupled with the country’s highly competitive Section 481 tax incentive (worth up to 34% of eligible Irish expenditure) these factors have been cited as the thrust behind 89% of incoming production spend.
This has fuelled the drive for awards recognition from the New York Critics Circle to the BAFTAs and now, the most impressive Oscars lineup, campaigning internationally to increase Ireland’s prestige as a country that has long understood the importance of culture as a soft power on the global stage.
With local initiatives like Cine 4, launched in 2017, dedicated to promoting indigenous, Irish-language film (it financed this year’s ‘The Quiet Girl’, the first Irish-language film ever to be nominated at the Oscars) and popular celebrities like Brendan Gleeson and Paul Mescal being interviewed in Gaeilge (Irish) for international TV on recent red carpets, there is a renewed national energy and desire to champion local film which in turn will drive increased cinema attendance as the cultural mood soars.
Indeed, the cast and crew of The Quiet Girl booked out the Stella Cinema in Rathmines to watch the Oscar nominations live - a nail-biting event to be sure, but one they were intent on celebrating together, in the shared magic space of the movie theatre.
This action, in itself a testament, is a microcosm of the wider renewed love of the film arts in Ireland and the desire to see them in their original home: the big screen.
As Ireland’s box office continues to bounce back after the pandemic, with healthy signs in terms of new screen openings and a vibrant resurgence in its film culture - with varied offerings on the horizon, it is the right moment for DX to explore this strategic market as a territory that can benefit from our efficient, cloud-based cinema solution.
Five of the biggest Irish films to watch:
- The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2007)
- In the Name of the Father (1993)
- Brooklyn (2015)
- The Commitments (1991)
- Intermission (2003)
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