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7 in 10 cinemas offer no subtitled screenings of top kids’ films

Published Date: 12 Sep 2019
  • New research shows thousands of deaf children are being failed by their local cinemas.
  • On average 71% of cinemas showed no subtitled screenings of top children’s summer films during their opening week.
  • The National Deaf Children’s Society said “it’s disgraceful that cinemas are failing deaf children so completely.”
  • The charity is calling on cinema companies to increase the number of subtitled films they screen and to invest in new technology to improve access to the cinema.

Thousands of deaf children are being let down by their local cinemas because the vast majority are not providing subtitles, new research shows.

The study by the National Deaf Children’s Society shows that for each of the summer’s top children’s films, an average of seven in 10 (71%) UK cinemas didn’t provide subtitled screenings.  

The figures, covering films opening between May and August, reveal the top 11 children’s films were shown in an average of 581 cinemas, but on average, just 171 provided at least one subtitled showing.

The analysis also showed that none of the films were subtitled by more than half of cinemas, prompting warnings that “the magic of the cinema is still out of reach for most deaf children.”

The study revealed that the animated film Ugly Dolls was the least accessible film for deaf children this summer, with just one in twenty (5%) cinemas putting on a subtitled performance. This was closely followed by The Queen’s Corgi (10%) and Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (17%).

The Lion King came out as the most inclusive film for deaf children this summer, despite less than half (48%) of cinemas putting on a single subtitled performance.

Toy Story 4 came in second place with 44% and the latest instalment of the Spiderman franchise came third with 39%.

Top children's films this summer

UK Cinemas showing subtitled performances

The Lion King


Toy Story 4


Spider-Man: Far From Home




Playmobil: The Movie


Angry Birds 2


Secret Life of Pets 2


Dora and the Lost City of Gold


Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans


The Queen's Corgi


Ugly Dolls




Source: National Deaf Children’s Society analysis of Your Local Cinema and Comscore data.

The National Deaf Children’s Society said the results were “deeply depressing” and highlighted how “so many needless barriers still exist for the UK’s 50,000 deaf children.”

The charity is calling on cinema companies to increase the number of subtitled screenings they put on at times that are suitable for families. In addition, they have highlighted how the industry must start to seriously invest in new technology that allows cinema-goers to have their own individual captions during a film.

Helen Cable, who leads the National Deaf Children’s Society’s work with children and young people, said:

“This research couldn’t be clearer – deaf children across the UK are being denied a key part of their childhood because cinemas are refusing to put on subtitled performances.

“The magic of the cinema is such an important part of growing up. Everyone remembers those big moments - watching ET disappear into space, singing along to The Lion King, or getting emotional during Bambi or The Notebook. Deaf young people are no different, and it’s disgraceful that cinemas are failing them so completely.

“While the research is clear, the remedy couldn’t be more straightforward. Cinemas need to increase the number of subtitled films they show, and show them at times that are more convenient for families.

“On top of this, they need to start seriously investing in the new technology that is being developed to make the cinema more accessible for deaf children. None of this is rocket science, but its impact would be enormous.”

Rachel Shenton, the actress and film maker who last year won an Oscar for her film The Silent Child, commented that cinemas across the UK need to radically improve the support they give to deaf children. She said:

“It’s unacceptable that deaf children across the country struggle to access the cinema.

“This is yet another unnecessary obstacle facing deaf children. We need managers and cinema owners across the UK to think about inclusivity and what that means.

“In my home town of Stoke-on-Trent, all the staff at the local Odeon cinema have had basic sign language training and show regular signed and subtitled films - so it can be done.

“The people running these cinemas need to look deaf children in the eye and tell them why they can’t have a childhood like other kids. Things need to change, and it’s shameful that they haven’t already.”

Ellie Parfitt, 22 from Norwich, is a deaf blogger and a campaigner for more subtitled showings at the cinema. She said:

“Going to the cinema was never really a social outing option for me due to the lack of subtitled cinema showings. Mostly due to the limited options available, usually at unsuitable times and days. Hearing people have 100% choice of which film they get to see. We don't have that choice.

“Is it fair that we have to travel 200 miles to another cinema to watch a subtitled showing? Is it fair that we only have the choice of one film out of 20? It's disheartening to stay at home while my friends and family go to see a film that I want to see, but instead I have to wait for the DVD to come out.

“All we're asking for is at least one subtitled showing of each film a week, including the opening week, at a suitable time. We're not asking for them all to be subtitled, we just want equal access to a fun, enjoyable activity. Cinemas wouldn't refuse wheelchair access or remove a disabled toilet, so why refuse subtitles?”