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European films falling in UK popularity

Posted on 25 January 2017

European films are significantly falling in popularity in the UK, a new study from a University of York academic reveals.

From 2007 to 2013, admissions for non-English language European films fell by nearly half (46.8 per cent), from 1.9 million to 1 million.

The UK has the lowest market share for European films of the 28 EU member countries, accounting for just 1.8 per cent of gross box office takings from 2002-14. In 2012, cinema admissions for non-English language European films also peaked at just 1.8 million for the year – half of what Skyfall, the top-selling film of 2012, took in its opening weekend.

These figures come despite attempts to boost audiences from schemes such as the EU’s MEDIA programme, giving €8.6 million to UK distributors from 2007-13, and an investment of €6.8 million from the UK Film Council and British Film Institute to support the distribution and marketing of non-English language European films.


Research shows cultural factors play a significant part in why so few British people engage with European films. Only 14.1 per cent of Britons profess to like foreign-language films, with viewers saying they are put off by subtitles, the lack of familiar actors or subject matter, and the ‘art-house’ style of many European dramas.

However, industrial issues are also at play, as European films have smaller budgets than Hollywood films (an average of $5m, compared with $139m) and more limited distribution (reaching 14 cinemas at their widest point of release, compared with 168 cinemas).

'Breakout' titles

Dr Huw Jones, Postdoctoral Research Associate in York’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television, explains: “Despite attempts to boost audiences, non-English language European films have struggled due to arthouse cinemas showing more mainstream Hollywood films, an increase in competition for screen space due to a doubling in the number of film releases over the past decade, and higher distribution costs.

“Nevertheless, some European titles are well received in the UK – there were about 34 ‘breakout’ European titles from 2007-13, grossing over £1 million at the box office. Half of these were non-English language films, including The Lives of Others, La Vie En Rose and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. These tend to be ones with ‘pre-sold’ qualities, for example they are based on a best-selling novel or they tell the life of well-known historical character, such as Coco Before Chanel.

“To increase audiences, a more selective approach to distribution subsidies could help for non-English language European films, and EU MEDIA funding in particular should be targeted at films with qualities that British audiences are likely to identify with. However, the future of such support remains in doubt as a result of Brexit.”

Further information:

  • The box office performance of European films in the UK market by Dr Huw Jones is published in the journal Studies in European Cinema. To read, visit:
  • The research comes out of the ‘Mediating Cultural Encounters through European Screens’ (MeCETES) project, funded by the Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) programme. For more information, visit:
  • For more information about the University of York’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television, visit:

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