World Cinema has Moved Past the US

  • Paul 

It’s never coming back

Through the heyday of DVD & Blu-Ray, US films of all types could be found being sold all over the world (legal and otherwise). But as the quality of foreign films has increased dramatically, taste for American content has declined. Some of the reasons for this include…

  1. Cheaper filmmaking equipment (including smartphones)
  2. Less expensive editing software
  3. Less expensive & more powerful computers
  4. Improved economic conditions
  5. Increased accessibility of local talent

Unsurprisingly people naturally prefer watching content featuring their own stories and about their own people (superheroes and dinosaurs aside). Here are a few examples.

The future of film may include Superheroes WITH dinosaurs! Unstoppable!

South Korea

In the past 10 years, Korean films have outstripped foreign films in terms of box office revenue and ticket sales. In 2012 alone, domestic films earned $44 million whereas foreign films brought in $35 million. In 2007, 6 of the top 10 films were American. That has decreased to 3 of the top 10 in 2017.

And of course the big news. PARASITE WON THE FIRST (4) NON-ENGLISH OSCAR(S) EVER!

Interestingly, while the number of films made on big budgets exceeding 10 billion won (about $9.34 million) doubled in 2017 from the previous year, those blockbusters’ rate of profit decreased. On the other hand, films with budgets between 3 and 5 billion won went into the black in 2017 and eased the impact of the decrease in the earnings rate of more expensive films. Sources say such improvement can lead to emergence of new non-conglomerate investors-distributors that can handle small- to mid-size pictures. Some are already gearing up to enter the market.

Nigeria (Nollywood)

In 1992, in Nigeria, electronics salesman Kenneth Nnebue shot a straight-to-video movie in one month, on a budget of just $12,000. Living in Bondagesold more than a million copies, mostly by street vendors, and Nollywood — Nigeria’s movie industry — was born.

By 2009, Nollywood had surpassed Hollywood as the world’s second largest movie industry by volume, right behind India’s Bollywood. And in 2014, the Nigerian government released data for the first time showing Nollywood is a $3.3 billion sector, with 1844 movies produced in 2013 alone.

India (Bollywood)

In India film production has nearly doubled since 2005 when just over 1,000 films were produced. With the introduction of digital technology, production started to ramp up in 2012, and in 2015, India reported that 1,907 feature films had been produced.

Bollywood Superstar Aamir Khan (right)

China (Chollywood — just kidding)

Among developed countries, China’s film industry continues to gain ground. From 2005 to 2015, Chinese film production more than tripled, rising from 260 to 686 movies. Not only is their production rate increasing, but while Eastern stars like Ang Lee, Bruce Lee, John Woo, and Jackie Chan once journeyed to the west to reach the next level, the trend is now reversing as Chinese film budgets are now able to attract A-level talent from Hollywod.

For a timely example, look no further than Animal World, the colorful, youth-oriented thriller from Beijing-based studio Enlight Media currently on top of China’s box office. The film, an adaptation of a Japanese comic book, opened to $38 million over the weekend, kicking off China’s summer blockbuster season. The film features two-time Oscar winner Michael Douglas deploying his signature menace as the mysterious villain, an overseer in an elaborate underground game of chance. Chinese critics have heaped praise on the 73-year-old American actor’s performance.

Michael Douglas in Chinese thriller Animal World

But Douglas isn’t the only Hollywood star willing to play a supporting role in the Chinese movie boom. Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire, The Dreamers) popped up earlier this year in Wanda Pictures’ smash hit comedy Detective Chinatown 2, which grossed $544 million in the Middle Kingdom. Marvel Studios’ alum Frank Grillo(Captain America: Civil War) played the Western baddy in Wolf Warrior 2, China’s biggest blockbuster ever ($870 million). And, later this summer, Bruce Willis and Adrian Brody will appear as U.S. military brass in Unbreakable Spirit, a China Film Group-produced tentpole about the Japanese bombing of the Chinese city of Chongqing during World War II.

It’s bad news for traditional Hollywood that even on top of Television and Netflix stealing their talent, the world’s most populous nation is also throwing their hat into the ring. Below is a graph of the number of films being produced in developing countries vs. developed countries. This data from 93 countries and territories cover film production, exhibition and distribution for countries at various levels of economic development for the 2015 reference year. New data show the growing importance of developing countries in the cinema industry. In 2015, developing countries, accounted for 59% of global movie production.

Figure 1.1

So while the United States continues its grip on the global box office via superhero franchises, explosions, sequels, and giant robots, it remains to be seen whether they can retain that hold while global film industries continue to improve. 

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