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Genre trends in five European countries, 2006 to 2010

This post is an updated and extended piece I wrote last year on genre trends at the box office in five Eurpoean countries with the data cleaned up and new variables considered. Although the numbers have changed slightly from lasty year’s version the orignal conclusions remain valid.

The pdf can be accessed here: Nick Redfern – Genre trends in five European countries

Abstract

This paper analyses box office trends of the genres for the top 50 grossing films in each year from 2006 to 2010, inclusive, in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. We find that, generally, the frequency of genres is homogeneous and that the same types of films dominate the highest reaches of the box office charts; while the number of films unique to a country and the variation among production sources within a country is strongly associated with the distinction between international ‘technology-friendly’ films (action/adventure, fantasy/science fiction, and animated family films) and domestically produced ‘technology-unamenable’ genres (comedy, drama, crime/thriller, romance, and non-animated family films). The results suggest the concepts of national cinema and genre are closely interrelated, and that for audiences in these five European countries the decision about which films to see presents itself as a choice between genres that is often also a choice between Hollywood films and domestic films.

 

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Genre and European box office, 2006-2010

UPDATE: This post has now been superseded by a revised version that cleans up the data and extends the analysis and should be referred to in place of this. See here for the new version.

To round off a series of posts on genre and box office this August, I look at the frequency of different genres in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – to see what we can learn about different national markets.

For each of the five countries, I accessed the data from Box Office Mojo for the top 50 grossing films in each year from 2006 to 2010, inclusive. (For some reason, Box Office Mojo lists some films twice in the same year if they have slightly different titles; and I removed these duplicates to replace hem with the next film in the box office rankings). This gives a total sample size of 250 films for each country, and a total of 1250 data points overall. Obviously this does not mean we have data on 1250 films because many of the films reached the top 50 in more than one country. Overall, this sample has data on 596 different films.

Usually I use a system of nine categories for sorting films according to genre; but due to the fact that the number of horror films reached double figures for Spain and the UK only (with 11 and 10 films, respectively) and were very small in number for the other countries (France = 2, Germany = 7, and Italy =6), I have put this films into the category of ‘Other.’ Obviously the fact that horror infrequently reaches the top of the box office charts is interesting in itself, as is the French aversion to horror.

The eight categories used are, therefore, Action/Adventure, Comedy, Crime/Thriller, Drama, Family, Fantasy/Science Fiction, Romance, and Other. Alongside Horror films, Other also includes Westerns, War films, Musicals (including concert films), and Documentaries.

First, we look at the frequency of films occurring in each country in each genre (Table 1).

Table 1 Genre frequency in the top 50 grossing films in five countries, 2006-2010 (NB: the Total column to the right is the number of data points for each genre and NOT the number of different films)

Overall, the number of films from each genre to make it into the top 50 films in the five years covered is similar in each country. To test if the proportion of films from each genre was the same in the five countries, I performed a chi-square test of homogeneity (corrected α = 0.0131, based on 8 tests and an experiment-wise error rate of α = 0.10). These results are presented in Table 2, and show that the only statistically significant difference occurs for the comedy genre. Post-hoc analysis of the adjusted standardized residuals (based on a two-tailed critical z-value of 2.5596) revealed that this is due to Spain having fewer comedy films than expected (z = -3.6880), but the effect size for omnibus test is small (V = 0.1122).

Table 2 Chi-square test of homogeneity for the proportion of films in each genre in five countries

With the exception of the missing comedy films in Spain, these five different markets appear to otherwise very similar for each genre. However, this does not mean that audiences in these five countries are necessarily watching the same films.

To find out if the same films were making it into the top 50, I counted the number of times a film featured in the list of films for each genre. For example, if a film only made it into the top 50 in Germany (e.g. Elementarteilchen (Atomised)) then it would appear only in the list of drama films only once, while a film that made it into the top fifty in all five countries (such as one of the Harry Potter films) would appear in the list of Fantasy/Science Fiction films five times. This is a somewhat crude measure, but it does allow us to see some basic commonalities and differences. This information is presented in Table 3.

Table 3 Frequency with which individual films make the top 50 highest grossing films in five countries from 2006 to 2010 (NB: the Total column to the right is the number of different films in each genre in the overall sample)


Table 3 reveals three distinct patterns:

  • Action/Adventure films tend to feature in the lists for four or five different countries (59%). This is the only genre for which this is the case.

Generally, these films a big-budget Hollywood franchise films such as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast and Furious, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and the like. Just less than a quarter of these films feature in only one list, but even these tend to be Hollywood films (e.g. Watchmen or Resident Evil: Extinction*).

* Resident Evil: Afterlife did much better though, ranking everywhere except the UK.

  • The genres of Comedy, Crime/Thriller, Drama, and Romance and dominated by films that appear in one list only.

If Hollywood is able to dominate the global market with its action movies, then it is much less successful when it comes to these four genres. Comedy, in particular, seems to be very different with 78% of films appearing in the list for only one country. Some of these are individual Hollywood films that have performed well in one country not the others; but many are films that only feature in the list of the country in which they were produced. For example, the series of Christmas comedy films from Italy directed by Neri Parenti has performed exceptionally well in that country: one film has made the top 5 grossing films in each year in the sample, with Natale in crociera (2007) and Natale a Rio (2008) both taking the number 1 ranking. However, these films have not made any impact at the box office in any of the other European countries included here. Four comedy films made it into list of each country (Burn After Reading, Mr. Bean’s Holiday, The Devil Wears Prada, and The Hangover).

The Crime/Thriller genre features several big-budget Hollywood films that were successful in all five countries (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, No Country for Old Men, The Bourne Ultimatum, etc), but again these five markets are more different than they are similar. Some films that appear only once are Hollywood films (e.g. The Taking of Pelham 123, State of Play – neither of which are as good as the originals); but most are successful only in the country in which they originate. So Un prophète and Ne le dis à personne feature in the French box office charts only; and Gomorra and Milano-Palermo: il ritorno only in the Italian charts.

Only a few drama films appear in the top 50s of all countries (Australia, Blood Diamond, Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island, and The Pursuit of Happyness), while 73% feature in one list only. Romance films show the same pattern, with only seven (13%) films featuring five times (and three of these are from the Twilight franchise), and 65% of films featuring once only. The drama and romance films that appear once tend to feature only in the country from which they originate, but when drama films do cross borders they go between the continental countries and not tot the UK. For example, Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) features in every country except the UK. There does not appear to be the same level of cross-over for the romance films, and when a film from this category appears more than once it tends to be a Hollywood film.

Laughter and love do not apparently travel well – in the cinema at least. And nor do crime and drama. The five markets are much less homogenized in these categories, unlike the Action/Adventure films where they are much more consistent in terms of the films in circulation. This clearly raises question about the extent to which we can speak of the Americanization or globalization of European cinema, as it appears to affect some categories of films more than others.

Finally, the third set of genres:

  • The genres of Family and Fantasy/Science Fiction are split between films that feature in one list only and films that feature in the box office charts of all five countries.

For the family genre, 41% of films feature once and 39% of films feature five times. For the Fantasy/Science Fiction films, the equivalent statistics are 42% and 29%. This suggests that there is a divide in the market for these films. The majority of the films in these two genres are Hollywood blockbusters no matter how many time they occur. But we do see a clear split between films that are broadly successful against films that do not travel across borders so well; especially when it comes to animated family films that perform well in all markets (e.g. Cars, Flushed Away, Ice Age: The Meltdown) alongside several European animated films that appear – yet again – only in the country of their production (e.g. Konferenz der Tiere in Germany, El ratón Pérez in Spain, or Azur et Asmar in France). Separating out the UK is much harder as many of the Hollywood films are produced here anyway.

As Other is a category comprising films from several other genres it makes little sense to speak of trends, but it is interesting to note that the three films that feature in all five lists are High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Inglorious Basterds, and Mamma Mia!

As I said before, this is a crude way of measuring differences in audience taste, and I won’t have a much richer picture until I start to compare the box office gross of films in each country directly. But what the information in the above tables provides is a means of describing the national specificity of film a markets based on the types of in circulation and which achieve the highest box office rankings. There are many similarities between these five countries, but we should want to know why the Spanish do not go and see as many comedy films as the British, Germans, French, and Italians? Why do we all seem to watch the same Action/Adventure films but not the same Drama films? Perhaps the specificity of a national cinema is only evident in some categories of films and not others; or Hollywood has cornered the market on such blockbusters to the exclusion of all other producers. Why, if the audiences in these five countries are watching mostly different Romance films, is the proportion of films from this genre in the 250 films for each country so similar? Is there a common underlying structure to European film a markets? Why did the British not pay to see Resident Evil: Afterlife unlike the rest of Europe? And where are the French horror films?

The romance genre at the box office in five European countries, 2006 to 2010

Assuming I have not been defeated by the rivers Wharfe, Aire, and Ouse I shall today be presenting a paper at the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance conference in York (though it is entirely possible that I’m stuck in York railway station). Below is the basic text of my presentation from which I will have inevitably digressed enormously. The pdf file is below. This is based on the same data I used in earlier post on genre and European box office although it has been cleaned up a little so the results are slightly different, though this does not have any impact on the conclusions.

Nick Redfern – The romance film at the box office in five European countries

We analyze the box office performance of romance films in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom – from 2006 to 2010, inclusive, based on the top 50 grossing films in each country in each year. The results show that romance films account for only a small proportion of the films to reach the top 50 highest grossing films, and that there is no statistically significant variation in the proportion of romance films among the highest grossing films in each country. However, few romance films achieve a high box office ranking in more than one of these countries, indicating a lack of commonality across different markets with different audiences watching different romance films. Romance films achieving top 50 rankings in Germany, Spain, and the UK originate almost exclusively from outside these countries, whereas domestically produced films account for a larger proportion of romance films in France and Italy. Romance films perform consistently at the box office in three of the five countries, albeit lacking the very high grosses achieved by action/adventure, family, and fantasy/science fictions films; while this genre performs particularly poorly in Italy and Spain. Romance films emerge as a fixed part of the exhibition market in all five countries, but the variation in the films viewed, source of productions, and box office grosses indicates some important national differences.

Gini coefficients of five European film industries

Back in May 2010 I looked at the Gini coefficient of the opening grosses in the UK in 2009 (see here).

The Gini coefficient (G) is a measure of the inequality of a statistical distribution, ranging from perfect equality when all the members of a population have equal share in some property such as income (G = 0) to perfect inequality when all the property is owned by a single person (G = 1). This inequality can be represented as a Lorenz Curve, which shows the cumulative proportion of a property belonging to the cumulative proportion of a population. This can be interpreted in reference to the line y = x, which represents perfect equality, and the further away the Lorenz curve lies away from this line the more unequal distribution.

The Gini coefficient and the Lorenz Curve are useful for comparing the inequalities of different populations, and so this week I compare the Gini coefficients of the total grosses of films distributed in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – in 2011. The data used is from Box Office Mojo and all box office grosses are in US Dollars.

Table 1 shows the Gini coefficients for the total sample sizes and for the top 100 grossing films in each country. It is clear that the distribution of grosses in each country is very unequal, with the vast majority of the gross accumulated by a small number of films. The UK is more unequal than the continental countries. The highest grossing film in the UK in 2011 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part Two) – grossed $117.23 million, accounting for 6.4% of the total accumulated gross. However, this was not the most dominant film in any of these countries: in France the highest grossing film was Intouchables, grossing $116.13 million and accounting for 9.5% of the total accumulated gross. Nonetheless, the overall distribution of the other four countries are less unequal, indicating that the UK box office tends to have fewer mid-range films. For example, it appears from the Lorenz curves in Figures 1 through 5 below that the comparatively high value of G for the UK is the result of the larger number of very, very low grossing films in the UK that are not present in the other countries and the very rapid shift to very high grossing films at the top end of the distribution. This is not present in Germany (Figure 2) or Italy (Figure 3), for example, which show much smoother transitions from the lowest to the highest grossing films.

Comparing the Gini coefficients for just the top 100 grossing films shows the UK to be no more unequal for this sub-group than France, Germany, or Italy. This sub-group does account for a higher proportion of the total gross than in these other countries but the distribution of grosses is no different from these three countries.

The Gini coefficient for the top 100 in Spain is much lower than the other countries due to the lack of a film like Harry Potter or Intouchables whose grosses are so much greater than those of other films. The highest grossing film in Spain in 2011 was Torrente 4 with $29.03 million (3.4% of the total accumulated gross), and the top 100 declines steadily with rank. This gives a different distribution to that seen in the UK, France, and Germany – see here and here for examples – which have a large drop off between subgroups of the top 100 grossing films, and between the top 100 films and the others on release.

The inevitable conclusion that follows from this, of course, is that there are a great many movies on release that no one is watching. The lowest grossing film in the UK is Fuk sau che chi sei (Revenge: A Love Story), which is listed as having a total gross 0f $45 (~£29).

Film policy in the UK is intended to remedy this problem by getting a more diverse range of films onto the cinema screens most people have access to (i.e. multiplexes), but the problem suggested by these results is the that of the squeezed middle. Showing Green Lantern in so many multiplex screens isn’t taking audiences away from thrillers produced in Hong Kong since no one is watching these films anyway. The films that suffer are films like Neds ($1.58) or Submarine ($2.37), which have limited opportunities to find an audience. This may explain why the UK film production sector is seen to be less successful in comparison to, say, France or Italy despite the fact that the UK is the largest film market in Europe. Film policy in the UK should be directed at reducing the inequality in the UK exhibition sector to a level comparable to that of the continental countries by boosting the earning power of the middle grossing films.

Table 1 Gini coefficients and total grosses for the total sample (N) and the top 100 grossing films in five European countries in 2011 ($US millions)

The Lorenz Curves for each country are in Figures 1 through 5, with the total gross shown in black, the top 100 grossing films in blue, and the reference curve (G=0) in red.

Figure 1 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in France in 2011

Figure 2 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Germany in 2011

Figure 3 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Italy in 2011

Figure 4 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Spain in 2011

Figure 5 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in the UK in 2011

An online module for calculating Gini coefficients and Lorenz curves can be accessed here.