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Profiling Foreign Language Film Fans

Foreign-language film fans are generally youngish, well-educated, midde-class urban dwellers. However, a new app reveals not all conform to this profile. Huw Jones reports.

Polling company YouGov have just released a new online app which is proving extremely useful to our research on the market for foreign language films in the UK.

Top foreign films

Table 1: Top 25 foreign-language films in UK box office 2002-13. BFI Statistical Yearbooks.

The YouGov Profiler allows users to analyse consumer profiles. Type any brand, person or thing into the search engine and it will reveal the ‘quintessential’ fan or customer – i.e. those who consume a particular product in greater proportion to rest of the population.

This allows us to build up a more detailed picture of who actually watches foreign-language films in the UK.

Previous research suggests foreign-language films appeals to a very specific audience. Of the 14% of Britons say they like subtitled movies, a higher proportion that average are graduates, urban-dweller and aged 25-44. Middle-income (£30,000-£39,999) and high-earners (£60,000 or more) are also over-represented.

The proportion of male and female foreign-language films are broadly the same. However, minority ethnic groups are twice as likely to prefer this cinema genre than white Britons.

Perhaps most significant of all is the fact that foreign-language films fans are more voracious movie consumers than most. Of the 2% who say they prefer foreign-language films over any other genre, the majority have visited the cinema at least once a month, and half have seen 10 or more movies in the last year.

They are also more likely to to be interested in other cultural activities, too. Most have visited a museum, art gallery or live music event in the past six months, and a higher proportion that average are interested in theatre, classical music and the arts.

Profile of the quintessential male and female foreign-language film fans.

Profile of the quintessential male and female foreign-language film fans.

The typical foreign-language film fan is therefore someone who is youngish, well-educated, cosmopolitan and highly cultured.

Of course, we should be careful about pigeon-holing audiences. A cursory look through the UK’s top 25 foreign-language films of the past decade or so (table 1) reveals a diversity of genres – Hollywood-style blockbusters (Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto), Chinese martial arts films (Hero, House of Flying Daggers), Bollywood rom-coms (Never Say Goodbye, 3 Idiots), Nordic Noir crime dramas (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and European art house cinema (Volver, Hidden) – each of which potentially appeals to a different set of film viewers.

And yet the YouGov Profiler appears to confirm the stereotype. Our analysis of the profiles for 35 recent foreign-language films shows the majority appeal to a youngish (25-39), metropolitan, professional middle-class audience. Media/publishing and government/civil service are amongst the top professions, while almost half could spare £500-£999 per month after outgoings. Politically, the vast majority of foreign-language film fans are liberal or left-wing.

Greaty Beauty fan

Nordic Noir fan

That said, certain profiles buck this trend. Amongst the few foreign-language films to appeal to a conservative audience are The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypo, both directed by Mel Gibson, a self-described traditionalist Catholic. Similarly, Asian martial arts films Oldboy and Zatoichi are more popular with those on the political right than the left.

The Nordic Noir Millenium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc) tend to appeal to an older (60+) and often female audience (whose other favourite programmes include crime dramas Wallander, Walking the Dead and Luther), as do Oscar-winner The Great Beauty and Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver, starring Penélope Cruz.

The raid fan

Asian martial arts fan

Horror (Let the Right One In, Night Watch, Trollhunter) and martial arts films (Hero, The Raid) are most popular with male working-class film fans, while Japanese animations or ‘anime’ (Ponyo, Spirited Away) appeal more to a female working-class audience. Most unusual, though, is the profile for the French thriller Tell No Oneits quintessential viewer is a middle-aged, working-class Yorkshire woman.

These findings should be treated with caution. Many of the profiles are based on small samples, and there is no data on the audience for Bollywood movies, one of the UK’s most popular genres of foreign-language films, notably amongst Britain’s South Asian community.

Nevertheless, it seems that for foreign-language films to reach outside their core UK audience (i.e. the youngish, leftish, educated, urban middle classes) they either need blockbuster appeal (e.g. Apocalypto) or they should tap into another niche market, such as martial arts (Hero, The Raid), anime (Ponyo, Spirited Away), crime (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Tell No One) or horror (Let the Right One In, Night Watch).

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