I think most UK cinema-goers would be surprised to learn that almost half of all cinematically released films are not in English language. As you would expect, the vast majority of the UK box office takings go to films coming from Hollywood (76.5% in 2014) and almost every single one of them is in English. However, outside of “studio films”, there are a large number of feature films released in the UK which don’t feature English as their main language.
- 40% of the films released in UK cinemas during 2013 films are not in English language
- Only 2.1% of the 2013 UK box office went to films not in the English language
- Since 2001, foreign language films have accounted for 35.4% of UK cinema releases
- The most popular non-English language within films released in the UK is Hindi
- The Passion of the Christ is the highest grossing non-English film in both the UK and America
Two out of every five UK films are not in English language
40% of the films released in UK cinemas during 2013 were not in English (280 films out of the 698 releases). Of the 418 films which were in English, 360 were only in English and 58 were in English but also featured extensive use of other languages, such as Captain Phillips which was in English and Somali.
Although they make up a sizeable percentage by number, they account for a very small amount of the overall box office receipts – only 2.1% of the 2013 UK box office went to films not in the English language.
This is not a new trend; since 2001, foreign language films have accounted for 35.4% of UK cinema releases (that’s 2,324 films out of a total of 6,573 releases)
What are the top non-English languages?
The most popular non-English language within films released in the UK is Hindi, accounting for 42 releases in 2013 and grossing £13 million at the box office.
Which are the top performing foreign language films?
Since 2001, The Passion of the Christ is the highest grossing non-English film in both the UK and America.
Highest grossing non-English films in the UK, 2001-13
|Film||Language||UK box office||Year of release|
|1||The Passion of the Christ||Aramaic/Latin/Hebrew||£11.08m||2004|
|2||Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon||Mandarin||£9.37m||2001|
|6||House of Flying Daggers||Mandarin||£3.78m||2004|
|8||The Motorcycle Diaries||Spanish||£2.75m||2004|
Highest grossing non-English films in the USA, 1980-present
|Film||Language||USA box office||Year of release|
|1||The Passion of the Christ||Aramaic/Latin/Hebrew||$370m||2004|
|2||Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon||Mandarin||$128m||2000|
|3||Life Is Beautiful||Italian||$57m||1998|
|5||Instructions Not Included||Spanish||$44m||2013|
|8||Jet Li's Fearless||Mandarin||$24m||2006|
|10||Like Water for Chocolate||$21m||1993|
The data for today’s article came from the BFI, Rentrak, IMDb, Box Office Mojo and the BBFC.
If you want to learn more about the topic then I recommend reading these two papers by Huw D Jones of the Mediating Cultural Encounters through European Screens (MeCETES) project at the University of York…
- The market for foreign-language films in the UK
- The circulation and reception of foreign-language European films in the UK.