GFT in 2019

Our Finance/Commercial Director and general man with the stats, David Gattens, looks back on the highlights of the year at GFT.  

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Overall, it was a challenging three months at GFT with admissions 10% down on the first quarter of 2018. It was of little comfort to learn that we had bucked the trend experienced across the UK in general where admissions were down almost a fifth on 2018 Q1 levels.

January is traditionally a key month for GFT when many of the top Oscar contenders go on general release in the UK. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case in 2019; five of the eight films that ultimately would contest for the Best Picture prize had already played in the UK by the turn of the calendar year. Thank goodness then for The Favourite – it’s rare for GFT to play a new title for three weeks, it’s rarer still for it to be our biggest film in each of those weeks, especially in January. The Favourite single-handedly saved our January going on to become the biggest hit at GFT for the year, and eventually claim a place on the list of GFT’s all-time Top 10 Box Office hits. Second-placed title for January, Mary Queen of Scots, still delivered a really solid return but only achieved around half of the admissions total of our runaway leader.

Eventual Best Picture Oscar-winner, Green Book, was our biggest title in February. Its numbers were solid enough, but they did fall below expectations. Indeed, it was our lowest-performing Best Picture Oscar title of the decade (well, apart from Argo that is, because we never played that at GFT). If Beale Street Could Talk, the third feature from director Barry Jenkins, was the other strong performer in the month, just falling short of the box office numbers of his previous, La La Land Moonlight.

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February also saw the start of the 2019 edition of Glasgow Film Festival (GFF). After the trauma of the previous year (some of us still have nightmares about the “Beast from the East”), the weather gods smiled kindly on us and audiences returned in their droves, eventually setting a new record of 42,224 admissions. The hottest tickets were our Opening and Closing Galas, Mid90s and Beats respectively, our Special Events (in particular, The Matrix at Argyle Street Arches, Alien at Parkhouse Business Park, and The Blair Witch Project at a Secret Location), Eighth Grade (with the help of an appearance by director Bo Burnham) and Audience Award-winner Harry Birrell: Films of Love and War.

March is traditionally a quieter month at GFT post-Festival, and this year was no exception. Only one of the three biggest titles of the month (UsEverybody Knows and The White Crow) would go on to claim a spot on GFT’s Box Office Top 20 chart for the year.

While the quarter was a challenge, with hindsight, our numbers must be viewed as respectable when the closures of Cinemas 1 and 2 for nearly a week each are taken into account. These closures were required for the installation of new projection and sound equipment in both halls. Our new 4K-ready laser projector in Cinema 1 has now been up and running since January. The first title ever screened at GFT in 4K? Our February late night screening of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando.

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Films set in Glasgow usually do pretty well at GFT and so it was no surprise to anyone here when Wild Rose kicked off April with a cheeky fanfare. Our second-biggest title of the month wasn’t even a feature film, but instead was the NT Live production of All About Eve starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James. Interest in NT Live performances really took off at GFT this year with all of their broadcasts delivering sizable numbers to us – especially May’s All My Sons (with Sally Field and Bill Pullman), the fantastic Lehman Trilogy in July, and November’s double-header of Hansard and Present Laughter. None of these titles however came close to the appeal and demand of one of NT Live’s biggest ever titles worldwide, which was broadcast towards the end of the year (more on this later).

April also saw Stanley Kubrick at the helm of that month’s CineMasters season. While overall, he only proved to be the second-most popular CineMaster of 2019, his films did claim the top three spots for individual titles this year – namely, A Clockwork Orange2001A Space Odyssey and Dr Strangelove.

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In May, GFT celebrated 80 Years of Cinema at its Rose Street premises with free screenings of a number of GFT popular classics (Mulholland DriveThe Wizard of Oz and Cinema Paradiso) as well as an advance preview of the hilarious Booksmart. Following its terrific reception at the GFF Closing Gala, Beats returned to be our biggest draw of the month. Delivering better numbers in its second week than in its first (a rarity in cinemas), it would very comfortably be the biggest Scottish title playing at GFT this year.

Glasgow is known throughout the world for many things, one of which is its passion for football. But the audience response to June’s release of Diego Maradona, the new film from director Asif Kapadia (SennaAmy), still came as a little unexpected, but welcome nonetheless. We would go on to be the number one performing cinema in the whole of the UK in terms of admissions on this film, which would become the third-biggest grossing documentary ever at GFT (after Nae Pasaran and My Scientology Movie).   

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The 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing in July saw the release of a number of related documentaries which all screened at GFT. Racing to the top of these was Todd Douglas Miller’s remarkable Apollo 11, which was one of my personal favourites of the year. Its numbers were eventually eclipsed by the two runaway leaders for the month – Ari Aster’s Midsommar and Nick Broomfield’s Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love. The latter title gathered some impressive (and hugely unexpected) records: its opening week numbers were the third-best of any cinema release at GFT in 2019 (losing only to The Favourite and Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood) and it became the only film in GFT history to have every daily matinee screening in its opening week achieve more than 100 admissions. Not bad for a title that was originally planned to run for most of the week in Cinema 3.

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Sometimes at GFT, we get frustrated when distributors hold back the release of some titles to the autumn and winter months in the mistaken belief that arthouse audiences don’t come to the cinema in the summer. So it was welcome news then when it was announced that two directorial heavyweights – and perennial GFT favourites – would be releasing their latest work in August: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood and Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory. Thankfully, both films must rank among their career-best and audiences flocked to GFT in great numbers, with both claiming Top Five spots on our 2019 Box Office chart.

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Glasgow Youth Film Festival broke new attendance records in September, with Lulu Wang’s The Farewell leading the charge. Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir was the biggest new release at GFT in September, but it just failed to make our Top 20 of the year. The hottest ticket for the month was undoubtedly the NT Live broadcast of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag – selling out at GFT in minutes, this phenomenon would go on to become one of NT Live’s biggest-ever worldwide titles. Sold-out encore screenings in October would go on to make Fleabag the second-biggest event cinema title ever at GFT (the Danny Boyle-directed Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller remains the biggest by a considerable margin).

September also saw the introduction of a new year-long initiative at GFT: Support Indie Cinema – Pay What You Decide. More details on this scheme can be found here. In brief, the idea is to give audiences a risk-free incentive to come see something new or different. One screening every Monday evening is selected for this project and audience members can book a seat for this show in advance. They then turn up, watch the film and only at that point decide how much they would like to pay for the experience. The project runs through to August 2020, so if you haven’t been to one of these screenings yet, do try to make it along. What do you have to lose?

After a sluggish opening quarter, our numbers had picked up quite considerably in the following two quarters. Indeed, our spring and summer numbers were the second-best recorded at GFT in the past 17 years – which is as far as our detailed records go. As of the end of September, we were back on target.

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Traditionally, October marks the start of the busiest period for UK arthouse cinemas and certainly it started encouragingly with Judy, starring Renee Zellweger. This would go on to be our biggest new release of the month. October also saw the 10th edition of our Scotland Loves Anime weekend – both Promare and the Mystery Film went on to sell out, but the most popular title of the weekend was undoubtedly Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You with two sell-out screenings in Cinema 1 (for the record – if you missed it first time round or want to watch it again – Weathering With You returns to GFT in late-January 2020). Unfortunately for GFT, Weathering With You also happened to be our second-biggest new release of October, such was the limited appeal of many of the titles available for release that month.

Thank goodness then for the returning hero Quentin Tarantino. His CineMasters season in October – which included four out of the five titles being screened on 35mm – was comfortably the most popular of the year. In terms of individual titles, Pulp Fiction was the best attended, just edging out Jackie Brown by one admission. The Tarantino season ended up ranking third among all directors selected in the three years we have run the CineMasters strand, just falling behind David Lynch and Paul Thomas Anderson.

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In late-September, screenwriter Paul Laverty was in attendance at GFT for a sold-out early preview of his and Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, screening with Q&A as part of Take One Action film festival. This powerful portrait of the effects of the gig economy in Britain today would return to GFT on its general release in November and become our biggest cinema release of that month. We also screened a trio of upcoming Netflix titles (The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes) to very respectable audience numbers. This gives us some comfort that while convenience might be available in watching these titles at home, for many film lovers the appeal of watching a quality film on the big screen has not diminished. The other notable event at GFT in the month was our 70mm presentation of Joker, which we were able to screen following a recent refurbishment of our film projection equipment.

After an encouraging start to the quarter, admissions at GFT then started to dip just at the very moment that the General Election was called. Coincidence? Other than Rian Johnson’s glorious Knives Out, there really hasn’t been another strong performing new title to close out 2019. We do have high hopes for Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women however – it opens at GFT on December 27. But even with these high hopes, it is looking very likely that total admissions for the quarter will be down on those recorded October to December 2018.

At least we have a bumper crop of fantastic new releases to look forward to in early-2020 – Jojo Rabbit, Uncut Gems, Bombshell, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Parasite, the list goes on and on…

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Before 2017, GFT had never achieved more than 200,000 admissions in a single calendar year. And then in both 2017 and 2018, we did just that. So there is a little disappointment here that we haven’t been able to make it three-in-a-row. That said, our forecast total of around 195,000 admissions is not to be sniffed at.



  1. The Favourite
  2. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  3. Beats
  4. Pain and Glory
  5. Diego Maradona
  6. Mary Queen of Scots
  7. Fleabag
  8. Sorry We Missed You
  9. Knives Out
  10. Wild Rose
  11. Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love
  12. Green Book
  13. Stan & Ollie
  14. Judy
  15. If Beale Street Could Talk
  16. The Farewell
  17. Midsommar
  18. Eighth Grade
  19. Colette
  20. Everybody Knows

David Gattens Finance/Commercial Director 19 December 2019

All Monday to Friday shows before 5pm have capacity capped at 50% (unless otherwise stated). All other screenings have full unlimited seating capacity (unless otherwise stated).

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