Where are the top Hollywood movie locations?

Sam on set of Space ChaseAs part of my research into the film business in China last week, I started to look at which countries Hollywood films are shot in. I expected to see an increase in films being shot in China in order to appease the state, however I found no such pattern. One side-effect is that I was able to extend my research to other countries. In summary…

  • 48% of Hollywood films are shot exclusively in America
  • 28% are shot entirely outside of the USA
  • In 2014, 15% of Hollywood films were shot in part in the UK
  • The UK has taken over from Canada as most popular non-US Hollywood movie locations
  • Films set in New York are often shot in Toronto
  • 71% of films shot in Iceland between 2000-14 were ‘Adventure’ films

These figures relate to the 2,088 live action scripted feature films released by Hollywood studios between 2000 and 2014. (There are more details about the films and some caveats about the data in the final section below).

Born in the USA, mostly

In 2014, just under half of all hollywood films were shot exclusively the USA with a further 24% being filmed in the USA and other countries. Only 28% of films had their entire principal photography outside of the USA. Filming country of Hollywood movie locations

Beyond the shining seas

Of the films which had some non-US filming, Canada and the UK were the most popular destinations. Non-US Hollywood movie locations Canadian flagCanada has long been a destination for Hollywood films looking for cheaper production costs, known as ‘runway productions’. There is an old Hollywood adage that parts of Canada can double for America – Toronto looks like New York, Vancouver like middle America and, at a push, Calgary is a bit like the American West. The truth of the matter is that these places don’t really look the same but decades of Hollywood telling us they do has meant that cinema audiences can’t tell the difference. As Lenin once said “A lie told often enough becomes the truth”.

UK filmThe UK currently has a very generous tax system, which gives Hollywood studios close to a fifth of the money they spend in the UK back in cash. They don’t need to repay this money or share any of the profits. The UK also has highly experienced studios, crews and post-production facilities. (We also have rather good tea). In recent years, the UK has overtaken Canada to be the top non-US country for the filming of Hollywood films. Hollywood movie locations 2000-14 Not everyone is happy with the studios’ peripatetic plans. JJ Abrams complained bitterly and publicly about having to move his family to a place far, far away to shoot the new Star Wars film (i.e. London).

Horses for courses

Different types of films require different types of landscapes. 71% of films shot in Iceland between 2000-14 were adventure films, compared with just 28% of films shot in the UK. Average number of countries for Hollywood movie locations

Data & Caveats for Hollywood movie locations

The data for which films to include came from the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). I then used various public online sources to determine shooting locations including IMDb, Wikipedia, Movie Locations, Seeing Stars, Movie Locations Guide and British Film Locations. The 2,088 films were all released in US cinemas by a Hollywood studio between 1st January 2000 and 31st December 2014. The studios I included were…

  • Warner Bros.
  • Universal
  • Sony
  • Paramount
  • New Line*
  • MGM*
  • Lionsgate
  • Fox
  • DreamWorks
  • Disney

* N.B. New Line stopped distribution in 2007 and MGM in 2009. Today’s data comes with a few notes and caveats…

  • Volume of shooting – I am not able to determine the volume of shooting in each country, meaning that a film which shoots 70% in one country and the remaining 30% in two other countries will just show up as having 3 country locations in my data. Many films will shoot the vast majority of the film in one country and then just take a small trip to another country or send a second unit.
  • Release date – The years shown the charts above relate to the year in which the films were first released in cinemas. This means that they don’t relate to the date of filming or, most crucially if you work in tax policy, to when the decision was made to film in a certain country. Therefore, we cannot use the year-on-year changes in productions to illustrate the effect of a change in tax incentives.
  • Full data – I have no way of knowing if the information available online is complete. I could not find verifiable location information for 2% of the films.
  • Genre – I have assigned up to three genres per film
  • Types of films – I excluded all documentaries and entirely animation-based films.

Epilogue

Mark KermodeLast week I was interviewed by Mark Kermode for a BBC Radio 4 series called ‘The Business of Film’.  One of the topics that came up was the ‘Britishness’ of the Hollywood films that have flocked to the UK in recent years. Plus when I turned up to the studio I caught the end of Mark quizzing Matthew Vaughn about Harvey Weinstein and from what I heard it’s going to be a show worth catching.  The three-part series will be broadcast from late February.