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November 18, 2013

Where in the world do British films do well?

Interfilm BerlinI spent some of last week in Berlin at the InterFilm International Short Film Festival which was playing host to the Viral Video Awards (where my film ‘The Theory of Everything‘ won the Audience Award!)

The experience of watching British films abroad got me thinking about the export of UK films. Despite the fact that most British filmmakers want to sell their films worldwide, few seem to have a handle on how likely that is. I took a look at how British films perform around the world and which types of British films do best. In summary…

  • The UK is the second largest exporter of films, after America
  • In 2012, British films accounted for 15% of the global box office
  • The vast majority of internationally distributed British films are financed by Hollywood
  • The whole of Asia only accounts for 6% of UK film exports
  • New Zealanders watch almost as many British films as the British
  • The British films which travel best are star comedies and historical biopics
  • UK films underperform in Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Brazil

British films are second only to American films

British films have accounted for between 7% and 17% of the global box office in the last decade, that’s 12.5% on average.

Not all “British films” are created equal

The term ‘British film’ is not a desperately useful one as it includes a huge range of films, from micro-budget independent films right up to the Studio-backed epics like Harry Potter and Skyfall. I’ve tried to distinguish between the two as I feel that most of my readers will feel heavily associated with just one of these sectors.

When we split the Studio-backed films from the independent films we can see that the income from Studio-backed British films is highly erratic. There were just three years separating the 10-year low in 2009 (just under $2 billion) and the high in 2011 ($5.6 billion). To try and explain why this is the case, take a look at the following list of Studio films which came out in 2011 and take a guess how many are officially “British films”…

  • Pirates of the Caribbean movie posterHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
  • Arthur Christmas
  • Johnny English Reborn
  • X-Men: First Class
  • Captain America: The First Avenger

The answer is… all of them. The current UK Film Tax Credit system has been very effective in attracting Hollywood Studios to shoot in the UK, leading to a huge increase in the figures for how “British films” perform aboard. However, there is no evidence in the numbers to suggest that the success of films like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides help the release of other British films in the same territory.

(Incidentally, I’m classing Johnny English Reborn as ‘Studio backed’ because Working Title is owned by Universal. As in most things, Working Title can sometimes be seen as a special case. Their funding comes directly from Hollywood but producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner have the autonomy to greenlight movies up to $35 million, and while their output is unquestionably commercial it is also almost invariably culturally British).

So, where are the British films selling?

The biggest importer of British films by a long margin is America.

What types of British films travel best?

Last year, the BFI commissioned David Steele and Olsberg SPI to look at UK film exports and they found that the British films with the greatest chance of success internationally were…

Which countries are cine-anglophiles?

Below is the 2012 box office data on 18 key territories where British films were distributed.

TerritoryAll British Films (as % of box office)Studio-backed British films (as % of box office)Independent British films (as % of box office)
United Kingdom31.9%22.7%9.2%
New Zealand26.4%17.7%8.7%
South Korea10.6%10.2%0.4%


My data this week came from Rentrak, MPAA, HIS, BFI, Olsberg SPI and David Steele. David Steele’s report ‘International Territory Review‘ should be required reading for all serious UK film producers. It’s extremely comprehensive, well researched and valuable.

Ideally, I would have preferred to have presented a chart with how British films performed in every country in the world but after the first 18 countries the data dried up. If anyone can find a data source for more data on this topic then I would be most grateful.

Berlin is a wonderful city and brimming with thought-proving wisdom…

Wisdom from Berlin shop window

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10 Responses

  1. ROF250 November 19, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    Great article Stephen – a really good read! Very informative.

  2. Anne-Marie November 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Why is there a difference between the European Union and Other European countries? Norway isn’t part of the union among others – but still they see themselves as European? If you would put both ‘European’ section together they represent 44 % as much as the US. I feel that is important for producers and others to see that both markets have an equal share what helps to make a judgement on promoting, pitching and selling the movies — Just saying!!! Otherwise GREAT article —

    • Stephen Follows November 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

      Thanks for your comment and I see your point. This is how the BFI groups countries in their research. While I agree that Europe combined does rival America in size, I think its much easier to see North America (I.e. USA and Canada) as one distinct place whereas Europe is 40-odd countries.

      • Anne-Marie November 19, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

        Thanks for having taken the time to answer… just felt it a bit odd that Europe is devided in two kind of groups — as you said there are so many ‘different’ countries that group different etnic groups or cultures or languages —


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