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Cinematic year 2023: the year of Barbenheimer and Sweet Dreams

In brief, Dutch cinemas and film theatres sold a total of almost 32 million cinema tickets in 2023. Not bad by far. Barbie attracted the most visitors, The Tattas was the biggest Dutch draw. The Dutch film press had already chosen Aftersun by Charlotte Wells as the best film at the end of December, while Sweet Dreams by Ena Sendijarević, also a convincing Golden Calf winner, emerged as the best Dutch title. Meanwhile, in America, the strike of screenwriters and actors gave the film industry there a tough year.

'The Netherlands went to the movies in full again in 2023.' So opens the press release with which Film Distributors Netherlands (FDN) and the Dutch Association of Cinemas and Film Theatres (NVBF) announce the figures of film year 2023. A year ago, cinemas were still climbing out of the coronadal, with Ron Sterk (CEO Vue Netherlands) hoping for 30 million visits in 2023. So that has now been amply achieved at just under 32 million, although it is still roughly 10% less than the level of the years before the pandemic. But plenty of reason for satisfaction.


Last year's best-attended titles were, rather surprisingly, Barbie (1.8 million visits) and Oppenheimer (1.7 million), which thus The Super Mario Bros. Movie left behind as a more obvious top scorer. Two films that, as different as they are, both managed to combine a quirky approach and strong directorial vision with a large audience. Nice that this can be done. In many cases, the duo were even programmed consecutively. Which as Barbenheimer indicated combination became something of a hype.

Thereby Barbie meanwhile as a major contender at the Oscars, while Oppenheimer was already on top at the Golden Globes ceremony. Oppenheimer also scored well when Dutch film journalists were asked at the end of December what they thought was the best film of 2023, but the highest rating still went to the coming-of-age drama Aftersun, the impressive, already multi-award-winning feature debut of Charlotte Wells.

Dutch films

Dutch films recorded over four million visits, which is similar to previous years. But the market share dropped from 16% in 2022 to 14% in 2023, which has been much better before. In 2013, it was over 20%. The best-attended Dutch title was The Tattas with over half a million visits. So much for the annual figures announced.

Renée Soutendijk in Sweet Dreams, photo by Emo Weemhoff

Still, the Dutch offering also had a few surprises in store, although this did not translate into spectacular attendance figures. The satirical colonial family drama Sweet Dreams was not only a glorious winner of six Golden Calfs, but also topped the ratings of the film press. This highly talented second film by Ena Sendijarević had already premiered at the Locarno festival, where Renée Soutendijk was awarded best actress. It is now known that Sweet Dreams gets a release in America.

Another Dutch title already attracting a lot of international attention is The occupied city (known outside our country as Occupied City) by Steve McQueen based on the book by Bianca Stigter. This unusual documentary combines Amsterdam's wartime past with contemporary city life. It won't be a crowd-pleaser anytime soon, but foreign festivals are lining up. Peter Bradshaw, authoritative critic at The Guardian, gave the film five stars!

Poor reputation

You might call that a small boost in a year that also drew attention to the meagre reputation of Dutch film abroad. This came crystal clear from a study initiated by the Film Fund by the British company Olsberg SPI. This compared the international results, such as awards at important festivals, of Dutch films with those from Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Austria. This leaves the Netherlands far behind, even though it produces significantly more films than those other countries.

At the Netherlands Film Festival conference, this already guaranteed a lot of discussion, and it will undoubtedly be a hot topic in the near future as well. In December, for instance, the Dutch Academy For Film already devoted a meeting to the question of how to push Dutch film up the ladder. Roughly speaking, a few keywords can already be detected. Make fewer films for more money, show more guts, more authenticity, grant confidence to wayward filmmakers.

Delayed blockbusters

Globally, movie attendance shows a similar trend. According to Gower Street Analytics, total receipts in 2023 were over 30% higher than in 2022, but not yet at pre-pandemic levels. And in the year Disney celebrated its 100th anniversary, at the same time, the US film industry came to a virtual standstill during a prolonged strike by screenwriters and actors. Many a blockbuster hit cinemas later as a result. Challengers, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire and Dune: Part Two are a few examples of titles that were planned for 2023 but we won't see until 2024.

A key point in the negotiations concluded on 9 November concerned sharing in the profits of streamers, which are increasingly important in the film landscape. Agreements were also reached on the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Think about scanning actors' faces or training AI with original scenarios.

Cinekid awards

AI was already coming into sharp focus in many ways this year. Even Cinekid had picked it up and made it a major theme of the MediaLab. And now let Cinekid also be the winner of the Jan Nijland Silver Rose for a person or organisation of great importance to the Dutch cinema world. This award is traditionally presented at the same time as the annual figures are announced. This time, the incentive prize, the Zilveren Roosje, went to Dick Smits, founder and director of Filmkenniscentrum.

Relevant press release and detailed annual figures can be found on the websites of FDN and NVBF.

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Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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