Huw D Jones has published a new article in Studies in European Cinema on ‘The Box Office Performance of European Films in the UK Market’.
The article examines two key questions:(1) why is the UK market for European film so small; and (2) how do certain European films achieve ‘breakout’ success?
The key findings of the research – which is based on statistical analysis of box office data and audience surveys, content analysis of case-study films, and interviews with UK distributors, exhibitors and policy-makers who specialise in European film – are as follows:
- European films averaged 17.4% of UK cinema releases in the period 2002-14, but accounted for only 1.8% of the gross box office – the lowest market share for European films in the EU28.
- Non-English language European films accounted for only 1.1% of the box office – or about 1.8 million admissions per year – which is about half what Skyfall, the top-selling film of 2012, took solely in its opening weekend.
- Cultural factors go a long way to explaining why so few British people engage with European films (especially non-English language productions) – many viewers are put off by subtitles, the lack of familiar actors or subject matter, and the ‘art-house’ style of many European dramas. Only 14.1% of Britons, for example, say they like foreign-language films.
However, there are also industrial issues at play – European films have smaller budgets than Hollywood films (an average of $5m, compared with $139m) and more limited distribution (reaching 14 cinemas at their widest point of release, compared with 168 cinemas).
UK admission for English-language and foreign-language European films, 2007-13. Source: BFI 2014.
- Non-English language European films in particular have struggled due a number of factors: (1) arthouse cinemas (e.g. the Picturehouse chain) showing more mainstream Hollywood films; (2) increased competition for screen space due to a doubling in the number of film releases over the past decade; (3) and higher distribution costs due to the introduction of the ‘virtual print fee’.
- Attempts to boost the audience for non-English language European films have had limited effect. Between 2007 and 2013 UK distributors received €8.6 million from the EU’s MEDIA programme and a further €6.8 million from the UK Film Council/British Film Institute to support the distribution and marketing of non-English language European films. Yet, in the same period, admissions for these types of films fell by 46.8%, from 1.9 million in 2007 to 1.0 million 2013.
- Nevertheless, some European titles are well received in the UK – there were about 34 ‘breakout’ European titles (i.e. grossing over £1 million at the box office) in the period 2007-13, of which half were non-English language films, including The Lives of Others (von Donnersmarck, Germany, 2006), La Vie En Rose (Dahan, France/Czech Republic/UK, 2007), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Oplev, Sweden/Denmark/Germany, 2009) and Broken Embraces(Almodóvar, Spain, 2009)
- English-language European films (e.g. Taken, The Impossible, The Ghost Writer, Animals United) tend to do well in the UK because they feature qualities which appeal to mainstream British audiences, e.g. Hollywood-style content and/or well-known British or American actors.
- The small number of non-English-language European films which ‘breakout’ in the UK market tend to be ones with ‘pre-sold’ qualities – e.g. they are based on a best-selling novel (e.g. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), they tell the life of well-known historical character (e.g. Coco Before Channel, La Vie En Rose), or they are made by a well-known European director (e.g. Pedro Almodovor’s The Skin I Live In and Broken Embraces). They also tend to have good reviews, major awards, generic conventions and stories which are easy to follow.
- The vast majority of successful European films are also distributed by Hollywood studios (e.g. 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros) or major independent distributors (e.g. eOne, Entertainment, Lionsgate, Studiocanal), rather than specialist ‘arthouse’ distributors (e.g. Artificial Eye, Soda, New Wave).
- A more selective approach to distribution subsidies could help to increase the audience for non-English language European films. EU MEDIA funding in particular should be targeted at films with qualities (e.g. ‘pre-sold’ material) which British audiences are likely to identify with. At the same time, the future of this source of support remains in doubt as a result of the Brexit referendum.
There are 50 free eprints of the full article available to those who do not have a subscription to Studies in European Cinema. Click on the following link: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/QBnBwCi4sb2rET5tC4tj/full
Subscribers to the journal can access the full article online: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17411548.2016.1268804