Subtitled screenings in UK Cinemas

All cinemas aim to provide an immersive big screen experience, where the audience is encouraged to feel part of the action. In large part this relies on their engagement with state-of-the art audio-visual effects, something which it is recognised is difficult for those with sensory impairments.

In its efforts to ensure that cinema continues to be as accessible as possible, the sector has developed a number of approaches intended to aid those with hearing problems in particular.

Chief amongst these has been the provision of subtitles, providing a solution for people with partial hearing loss as well as those who are profoundly deaf.

Subtitled/captioned screenings provide a transcription of the audio from a film, displayed at the bottom of the cinema screen. Along with the dialogue from the film, the subtitles include non-dialogue audio such as “(sighs)” or “(door creaks)”.


subtitled screenings each week around the UK in over 500 cinema sites – a 120 per cent increase in the last decade


kids clubs featuring subtitled screenings that take place monthly


UK cinemas now provide regular subtitled screenings

Top 20

films of 2017 were provided with subtitles*


major US studios supply all of their films with subtitle tracks from release date


releases always contain the subtitle track

* That said, the majority of (smaller) distribution companies do not include a subtitle track for the cinema-release.

While this progress has been very positive, there remain challenges around the current approach. The general experience of UK cinema operators is that the broader audience does not wish to attend subtitled screenings, and will avoid these if given the choice, resulting in significantly lower attendances at open captioned (OC) screenings than for those of the same film at the same time, albeit in non-captioned form. Cinema operators are therefore reluctant to programme OC screenings widely, and in particular at peak viewing times, resulting in a more limited range of choice than customers who are deaf or have hearing loss would like.

While efforts have been made to increase uptake of the current number of OC screenings, the growth in these has undoubtedly begun to plateau in recent years, this at a time when expectations amongst customers with hearing loss regarding better provision have understandably continued to increase.

Closed captions

In recent years, a number of new products have emerged onto the market which allow subtitling text to be seen on a personal device not visible to the wider audience. In the main these have involved technology where the text is seen on a personal screen or displayed on glasses worn by the viewer.  While these ‘closed’ caption (CC) devices, if widely adopted, have the potential significantly to increase access to the cinema for customers who need subtitling, and to allow for a more integrated audience experience, no one solution has yet – for a variety of reasons – achieved widespread take-up by cinema operators.

A ‘test day’ of the devices (then) available organised by the UK Cinema Association in March 2013, involving a specially-invited audience of people who were deaf or had hearing loss, suggested that while no solution was perfect, devices based around glasses were the clearly preferred option. However, since that time – and despite some limited roll-outs of these technologies in the US and other territories – progress towards an acceptable CC solution has been slow, with no viable and widely-accepted solution having yet emerged.