The current pandemic has shut shown pretty much all filming worldwide. As we start to leave this lockdown period, we will need to consider how to restart our industries. Social distancing on a film set will be tricky (albeit not impossible) and some have proposed that crews could quarantine together.
However, it’s not just the proximity to fellow cast and crew members which we will need to consider. Film shoots often include a large amount of travel – within a city, within a country and around the world. Productions travel for a variety of reasons, including to find suitable locations, to go where certain activities are technically possible and to take advantage of generous tax subsidies.
To illustrate the scale of such travel, I thought it would be useful to study the data on film locations. I built a database of the 200 top-grossing live-action fiction feature films of each year between 2000 and 2019 and looked at what countries they filmed in.
Number of countries
Over the past twenty years, the average top-200 movie shot in 1.6 countries.
Just under two-thirds of films only shoot in one country, 23% shoot in two and the remaining 12% shoot in three or more countries.
Which countries are the most popular shooting destinations for Hollywood movies?
It will come as no surprise that the most popular shooting destination for top-grossing movies is America. That said, I suspect that many people may be surprised to hear that a third of such movies do not shoot in the US.
In fact, the US has been falling in popularity over the past few years, thanks in part to competitive tax rebates offered by other countries. France too has seen a significant fall over the last few decades.
The chart shows the rise of the UK as a major filming destination. The UK has long been an attractive place for US productions due to skilled crews, varied facilities, convenient time difference and its mildly similar language. In the past decade, the generous tax rebate and falling Pound have resulted in a rise in US productions shooting in the UK.
This came at the expense of Canada, which has traditionally been Hollywood’s home from home. The chart below shows the shifting fortunes of the two countries.
So time will tell what the Coronavirus pandemic will mean for US productions shooting abroad. If Studios decide to keep more productions close to home, then it would have a seriously deleterious effect on film economies the world over, not least the UK and Canada.
The raw data for today’s research came from mostly IMDb and Wikipedia with additional info from a small number of other online sources. Studying countries is far more complex than it may first seem. Among the challenges are:
- Countries being created and destroyed over time, such as Germany becoming East and West Germany, before then reunifying almost 50 years later.
- Borders shifting, as we’ve seen recently by the annexation of parts of Ukraine by Russia.
- Disagreement over nationhood status, such as where Tibet is a sovereign nation.
- Quasi-independent states, such as Britain’s ‘Crown Dependencies’ like the Isle of Man.
Today’s research is designed to show the scale of the international filming of major films and so I took a few liberties in the language and classification. When I refer to a “country,” I included quasi-independent places (such as Hong Kong and the Channel Islands) as their own place, with the exaction of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Island, which are all under the single banner of ‘UK’. I chose this because location data is not always granular enough to ensure I was correctly identifying which UK nation the film was shot in.
Each country is counted once, no matter how long the production shot for. This means we are reflecting the breadth of locations but not the financial impact of such productions.