How many films are released each year?

In an unusual moment of synchronicity this week, three unconnected people have contacted me to ask how many films are released in cinemas each year.  Each had different reasons for asking but all were working from the same basic hypothesis – that the number is increasing.

In the past, I have looked at the number of feature films made (both in the UK and worldwide) but today we’re going to focus on the number of feature films released in cinemas to the paying public. This doesn’t include film festivals, private screenings or other types of content in cinemas, such as broadcasts of opera or theatre productions.

The first thing to note is that there is no one simple answer.  Firstly, we need to consider that each country will have its own unique market for movies and so the number of films released in the UK will differ from that of the US.  Secondly, there is no one company or body which possesses every piece of data required to report a completely accurate figure.  Each company involved in collecting movie data will have its own methods, criteria and biases. Finally, the biggest films are intensively studied, but smaller, independent films can be overlooked, especially if they are released in a small number of cinemas and for a short space of time.

With those warnings in place, let’s look at what numbers are being reported.

How many films are released in US theatres?

We’ll start in the US, where the number of films released has increased massively.  In 2016, there were 736 films released in US cinemas; twice the number in 2000.

Let’s break that down into a little more detail.  Using data from The Numbers, we can split these numbers into two groups – films by one of the six major Hollywood studios (i.e. Warners, Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony and Universal) which have a wide release (i.e. in at least 1,000 cinemas) versus all other films.

This shows us that the large growth in film releases has not come from the big Hollywood movies we hear so much about. In fact, they’ve dropped slightly.  In 2006 there were 128 such “wide Studio releases” and just 93 in 2016 (a 27% reduction).

How many films are released in UK cinemas?

We see a similar pattern in the UK, with the number of films released in UK cinemas more than doubling between 2000 and 2016.  Last year a staggering 821 movies released in UK cinemas – an average of almost sixteen per week.  This means that if you saw a new movie every morning and every afternoon on every single day of the year, you would still miss 91 new movies.

Why is this happening?

Is this huge growth being caused by an increase in supply or demand?  In other words, is the root cause an increased number of movies being pushed into cinemas, or are cinema-goers demanding ever more movies?

If we compare the change in supply (i.e. movie releases) with the change in demand (i.e. cinema admissions) we can see that it’s very much supply driven.  Whilst the number of movies released between 2000 and 2016 doubled, admissions have been fairly flat – both in the US and in the UK.

Technological changes mean that movies are easier and cheaper to make and distribute.  In addition, shifts in the industry mean that films spend far less long in cinemas before moving on to other platforms, such as DVD and Video On Demand.

Even the UK’s film public body has called this growth “ridiculous“. In 2014, the head of the BFI’s Film Fund, Ben Roberts, said:

There are too many films being released. That number is ridiculous, and the fact it keeps going up is not sustainable. There’s just too much stuff out there.  A real challenge for us is to make sure that films stay on screen for long enough… It’s too much for the market to bear. Financially, it doesn’t make as much sense.

Does the increase in releases mean more money for independent filmmakers?

We’ve already seen how the number of major Hollywood releases is not increasing, meaning that the growth in releases must be due to a greater number of independent films receiving a theatrical release.  This could be viewed as a positive change for artists and independents, as they get a greater-than-ever chance to get their film seen and to earn some of that box office income.

However, the data reveals that the studios have managed to keep control of the majority of the cinema market. Over the past ten years, 74% of all the money collected at the UK box office has gone to the top 50 grossing films.

Related articles

If you want to read more about trends in the film industry, then here are a few articles you may want to check out:

Notes

The UK data for today’s article came from the Film Distributors Association, comScore and the BFI; the US data came via the MPAA, The Numbers and Box Office Mojo.

We need to be a little careful about relying on data from the pre-internet age as it has a higher chance of being incomplete than data captured contemporaneously.  For example, Box Office Mojo launched in 1999 so all data from that year would have been added in 1999 or later.

Epilogue

A big thank you to Erin, Steve, and Franklin (via Michael), whose questions led to today’s article.  To be honest, I thought I had covered the topic already but it turns out that I had only addressed the topic in passing in amongst other articles.  I’ve been doing this for so long that I often forget what I have covered.  Twice last month I had an idea for a topic, Googled it and found that I had already looked into it.  I worry that this is early senility, but it’s a comfort to think I’ll soon forget I have it.