What does 2016 look like for film fans? We sat down for a chat with film journalist Joshua Winning to see what the future holds...

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It sure is an interesting time to be a film fanatic. While there’s no doubt that we’ve been treated to some outstanding pictures in the last few years, and some memorable performances to boot, there’s something much more interesting on the horizon this year than just another twelve months of movies.

The landscape of film is shifting as we speak. Cinema attendance numbers are dropping, digital content producers like Netflix and Amazon are setting up their own film studios, and even virtual reality developers are making a move into movie making. So with all that in mind, what does 2016 look like for film fans? We sat down for a chat with film journalist Joshua Winning – contributor to the likes of TotalFilm, SFX and DigitalSpy, and an author himself – to see what the future holds.

The digital takeover

“We’re definitely seeing a shift in how audiences consume media,” says Joshua. “Just take a look around the bus on your morning commute and you’ll find people watching films and TV shows on their handsets. Streaming services like Netflix are attracting big audiences and huge names like Kevin Spacey, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re poaching viewers from cinemas, but certainly means they’re offering an attractive alternative.

“Meanwhile, Amazon forked out a record $10m at Sundance for the rights to Casey Affleck drama Manchester By The Sea. In the past that kind of film would have gone somewhere like Fox Searchlight or Sony Classics, so that’s a real indicator of powerful streaming services are becoming.

“We’re definitely seeing a shift in how audiences consume media…”

“The film industry will always chase the youth market, though,” he adds, “so it’s easy to understand why studios are investigating things like 3D and VR – they offer in-cinema experiences you’ll want to pay for. That’s the key to staying afloat despite the tide of online media.”

But despite the worrying attendance numbers, cinemas and film studios are staying afloat, for the most part. “Attendance numbers may have dropped, but the industry does still appear to be in good health,” explains Joshua. “The UK box office was actually up in 2015, totalling £1.3bn compared to 2014’s £1.1bn, making it the sixth year in a row that the UK box office has taken over £1bn.”

So what’s the answer? The next big thing? Undoubtedly it’s VR…

VR “needs a champion”

Take yourself back to 2009. When James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ arrived in cinemas around the world, it launched a feverish obsession with 3D films – one that we’re only just recovering from over five years later. In 2016 we’re sitting on the brink of another craze, and this time, it’s virtual reality that is gearing up for a foray into film. So, what’s it going to take for VR to convince everyone that it’s the next big thing? According to Joshua, we need only look at the path that 3D took to the big screen…

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“VR needs high-profile champion if it’s going to make any impact in the filmmaking world,” he says. “The whole 3D craze only kicked off in 2009 because of Pixar, which released Up in 3D, and James Cameron who released Avatar. At the time, I think 3D was still seen as a bit of a naff relic from the 1980s – but since 2009 the number of blockbusters released in 3D has boomed. Pivotally, Avatar showed us what 3D was really capable of – it depicted an immersive fantasy world we could really believe existed – and we need somebody to do the same with VR. I’d be surprised if Cameron didn’t go that route with his Avatar sequels!”

Is that likely this year? Well, VR had “a massive presence at Sundance Film Festival this year,” says Joshua. “There was an entire venue dedicated to giving film-lovers a firsthand VR experience, but I’m not sure everyone was convinced.

“Robert Redford came out and voiced some frustration with the gadgetry involved. I can sort of understand that – who doesn’t get annoyed at 3D glasses? Imagine having to wear even more cumbersome tech for VR!

“The only way you’re going to get those high-profile champions is if VR is embraced by the major studios,” he continues, “and that’s already happening. Disney, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros and Lionsgate are all currently investigating the possibilities of VR – and it’s Disney leading the pack, the studio having just invested $65m into VR research. Given the number of fantastical worlds it owns – the Marvel universe and all its pieces, the Star Wars-verse among others – it makes sense for them to look into new ways audiences can immerse themselves even more into those stories. Who wouldn’t want to have a root around the Millennium Falcon? If Disney gets it right, that $65m it invested into VR research will look like peanuts.

While Joshua believes the big studios are currently “testing the water” by releasing tie-in mobile apps like The Revenant’s VR Experience, we think there’s definitely cause to be excited in the near future.

Why’s that? Simple: with every VR cinema release there’ll surely be a VR home release not long after, and that will spell great things for movie buffs with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or Samsung Gear VR headsets, all of which are finally up for sale.

The magic of cinema

Regardless of whether VR arrives in force anytime soon, there are plenty of intriguing 2D and 3D films coming to regular, bog-standard cinemas this year. “There’s still a magic to watching a film in a dark room with an audience,” says Joshua, “and there are some really exciting films coming this year.

“My number one is Independence Day: Resurgence,” he says in closing. “I’m a huge fan of the original, and the sequel is coming at a perfect time. We’re all obsessed with nostalgia right now – whether that be Star Wars or The X-Files or Twin Peaks, all of which are enjoying revivals – and it’s about time we had a massive apocalyptic alien flick from the guy who gave us Will Smith beating up an ET.

“I’m also really excited about X-Men: Apocalypse (did you see the trailer? It’s definitely taking the title seriously) and, for anyone who fancies something a bit more light-hearted, you have to check out Sing Street – it’s an ’80s Irish musical with masses of heart and some ridiculously catchy tunes!”

You can follow Joshua Winning through his site, and check out some of his books right here!

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