I’m going to set out my prejudiced little stall immediately: I hate booking cinema tickets online.

In terms of annoying outdated UX, booking tickets for all the major cinema chains is up there with pagination, full-page takeover ads and reading our old non-responsive site on a mobile.

I looked at the major players Odeon, Vue and Cineworld earlier in the year and each provided a frustrating experience, full of unnecessary distractions and barriers to purchase.

Cinema is the most pre-booked form of entertainment and with 80% of tickets booked on the day or the day before it’s also, for the majority of people, a last minute decision.

It’s frustrating that cinemas don’t cater for its main user group, those who are essentially ‘in a hurry’. 

Odeon has improved its UX recently with a guest checkout, which is great for speed, but the chain has still yet to make the transition to mobile. Other cinemas that do offer mobile sites are for the large part clumsy and ineffectual. 

Forgetting UX issues and mobile optimisation for the moment, the other thing I find frustrating is the ingrained notion that the choice of cinema chain comes first and the choice of film comes second. This feels illogical. Surely the film should come first?

Personally I go to the cinema exclusively when there is a specific film I want to see. It annoys me that I have to search every chain and independent cinema to see if or where that film is showing. 

Google does help out here somewhat…

But those results are just for today, when I click on the individual links I’m shown only a limited number of options that are specific to that cinema… 

Then to book I have to visit the cinema’s website anyway.

There are alternatives though. Ones that put the film first and allow you to search locations and times in one place.

MovieGlu

This is a search engine that shows every film, cinema, and showtime displayed in a TV-guide-style grid which, according to the company’s own research, makes it faster and more intuitive for people to compare showtimes. 

It has a simple, easy to use homepage, presenting search as the primary navigation with options to click on this week’s new releases.

Search is straightforward enough and presents results based on three time periods: morning, afternoon and evening.

The grid system is indeed easy to read and results are simple enough to compare. It helps that the cinema time is included in the ‘buy’ link as well as the finish time, the latter being often missing from cinema listings.

Results are ranked by closest cinema to the postcode. You can also move up and down the grid to see earlier and later times, rather than going back to search.

You can also see results on a map.

The site is also responsive, which is essential for the mobile user.

It would be great if there was a geolocation tool in the ‘where’ search field, so it automatically displayed results nearest you. However according to MovieGlu’s co-founder Derek Morgan the feature is unnecessary on desktops because “testing showed that ISP’s often report the user’s location as being different from their actual location.” Geolocation is enabled when you access MovieGlu on a mobile device.

My main concern is within the ‘what’ search field, which is a basic search tool at best.

It will only find exact matching results to the text you’ve entered.

A real-time predictive results tool would easily help with any unfortunate spelling mistakes.

The ‘buy’ buttons are also a little hit and miss in terms of the landing pages they lead to. 

We’ll probably never get to point where we can book any film at any cinema from one single place like you can do with other entertainment ticket retailers, but at least with MovieGlu you are for the most part taken through to the relevant page in the journey.

Here for instance I’m taken directly to the ‘add tickets’ page at Curzon, bypassing the need to reselect the showtime.

However for some of the smaller cinemas, you are taken directly to their respective homepages, meaning you have to go through the film selection process again.

Film specific landing pages

Powster has been building ‘film-branded’ single page websites for showtime information since the beginning of 2013. 

Using geolocation you’re immediately presented with showtimes nearest to the user which you can see on the map or as you scroll down the results in the middle of the screen. These are ordered by proximity.

If you click on a cinema choice in the middle, the map on the right is automatically prompted and offers directions on how to get there.

The buttons are a good mixture of attractive and functional, revealing easy-to-read drop down menus. There are also buttons that allow you to easily create an event on Facebook or add it to your integrated calendar.

However, as with MovieGlu, if you click on ‘get tickets’ it’s only the major chains providing relevant landing pages, with the independent cinemas you’re only taken to the homepage. 

In terms of aesthetic design, I think these bespoke pages are great. They’re also fully responsive and look equally lovely on a mobile.

Most of the major studios are using these film specific landing pages and the number is increasing with many smaller studios starting to get involved. However there is a huge drawback to this method: discovery.

In order to find the Hunger Games tickets page, I have to go to the studio’s website, Lionsgatefilms.co.uk then click on the ‘get tickets’ link.

When does anyone ever visit a film studio website? People rarely even visit standalone movie websites anymore. You can find links to similar ticket pages on the standalone websites for most major film releases but I dread to think what kind of traffic HorribleBosses2.com actually gets in order for it to be beneficial.

If you Google search ‘Hunger Games showtimes’ (also ‘film times’ and ‘tickets’) the official website appears at the very bottom of the SERP below the following chain results…

Maybe social media is the answer to the ‘discovery problem’? As standalone websites becoming more and more redundant in favour of official Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook pages, perhaps this is where links to ticket landing pages should be distributed.

On the Hunger Games UK Twitter page there’s no link to the ticket site.

After scrolling through a week’s worth of tweets, there’s also no mention of it there either. Same goes for the official Facebook page.

However Interstellar’s Twitter account does remember to include a link…

In conclusion…

Both MovieGlu and the Powster-built landing pages are a step in the right direction. MovieGlu’s focus on collecting cinema times in a one-stop location is particularly helpful and once some of the search functionality is ironed out, it will be a useful platform. 

The bespoke landing pages for specific films are lovely to look at and use, but are let down by a lack of discoverability. If a film’s social network account remembers to include the landing page link, then there’s no reason why they can’t be useful.

Then again, I’m still left with a lingering doubt. Is there really any need for either platform? Especially when you have to go through the rigmarole of using a major chain’s archaic booking system anyway.

Clearly the solution lies with the cinema chains themselves.