toronto independent theatres cineplex

Indie cinemas battle Cineplex for the right to play the movies you want to see

Toronto's indie cinemas have always been the heart of their communities. Unfortunately, they're also constantly in a battle for survival because they simply cannot play the films people are eager to watch.

Mega theatre chain Cineplex has first dibs when new blockbuster movies are released and indie cinemas have to wait until a Cineplex in their 'zone' has ended their run of the film. 

Theatres like Scotiabank Theatre, The Beaches Cineplex, and the Yonge-Dundas Cineplex, for example, get priority. Even two Cineplex theatres in close proximity can play the same movie but an indie cinema nearby is restricted.

This is the result of what's called the zone system. I would love to break the zones down for you, but there is no map of the zones available. That's right. Historically, zones have been inconsistent, even though they impact two-thirds of independent cinemas. 

cineplex independent cinemaThe Network of Independent Canadian Exhibitors (NICE) is an alliance of independent cinemas and festivals. Led by Director Sonya William, NICE has launched a letter-writing campaign called 'Support My Cinema' in which they are asking the government to address the issue. 

At the heart of their campaign is a love for local cinemas.

"All of our signatures haven't come because people are fans of NICE," William says, "They've come because they love their local cinema." 

Toronto's indie cinemas have banded together to appeal to movie-goers on Instagram and the response has been huge. 

Andy Willick owns Toronto's Fox Theatre, The Apollo in Kitchener, and ByTowne Cinema in Ottawa. He has 15 years of experience with the zone system. 

Willick says that it can be incredibly frustrating since indie cinemas are often left in limbo waiting for a film to be available to them.

He explains that in some cases movies have ended their initial run but he still won't be allowed to play them because Cineplex might want to re-release or put them back on screens after the Oscars.

"Weeks after release, you could have been playing a film and you're just waiting on another theatre to open the film."

cineplex cinemaIt's no secret that Cineplex rules a large part of the movie theatre market in Canada, but their slice of the pie is mammoth and more than double what other theatre chains have in other countries. 

Australia's largest chain holds 28.7% of the market, with the United States following at 26% and the UK at 24%. In Canada, Cineplex represents a staggering 75% of the market. 

This dominance has created a landscape that's hostile to independent cinemas.

While local cinemas in Toronto grow more popular, and the restoration of historic theatres has been celebrated over the past decade, the struggle is real. 

William believes the campaign is a big step to having the importance of independent cinemas recognized. If it's successful, more of us will have the chance to see all kinds of film releases, wherever we choose to.

For more information on the various issues indie cinemas are facing or to join NICE's campaign, visit They've created a simple form you can fill out that makes it easy to send a letter directly to your local MP. 

Lead photo by

Fox Theatre/Facebook

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