Figure 1. I took this photo of the world’s biggest IMAX theater at Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia.
When visiting our son and his family in Sydney, Australia, my wife and I were surprised to discover the world’s biggest IMAX theater “down under.” As rich, ethnocentric Americans whose fellow citizens started the movie industry, we assumed that we rule the silver screen and that we can boast the biggest and best of everything, especially when it concerns media. After all, entertainment media are our nation’s number one consumer export. Our movie studios flood the world with feature films. However, global stats show that the United States trails other nations in both cinema production and consumption.
Asian and African nations began to compete with the U.S. global entertainment juggernaut in the late 1990s, when digital video cameras and computer-based editing lowered production and distribution costs. Whether or not we want to admit it, the stats prove that these other countries are beating us in our own multimedia game.
Figure 2 shows the top feature film producing nations in 2009. The total world output that year was 7,193 features, an all-time high. India’s Hindi-language motion picture industry, nicknamed “Bollywood”, led with 1,288 titles, while Nigeria’s film industry, or “Nollywood”, ranked second with 987 features produced. The U.S. was a distant third, producing 694 features.
Figure 2. Leading nations in number of feature films produced
and percentages of the world’s total output in 2009.
As well as leading the world’s nations in production of motion pictures in 2009, India also bought the most theater tickets. Indians purchased 2.217 billion tickets for feature film exhibitions, which was 43.2 percent of the 6.74 billion total theater admissions among 70 nations that year. The United States was second with more than 1.42 billion admissions (21%) among a population of 306 million persons. China was a distant third with 263.8 million admissions (3.9%) among a population of 1.28 billion persons (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Leading nations in feature film admissions in millions
and percentages of the world’s total admissions in 2009.
The “America First” crowd might complain that it is unfair to compare movie ticket sales in the U.S. and India because of the population disparity. What about the number of cinema tickets bought per citizen? Surely the U.S. rules by that measure, right? Wrong. The tiny island nation of Iceland led the world in 2009 in per capita feature film admissions; each Icelander bought an average of 5.8 movie tickets that year. Americans came in a close second, purchasing 5.2 movie tickets per person. Figure 3 compares the top twelve nations in per capita feature film admissions; each exceeded the average of 1.4 admissions per person among 70 nations for which data were available (see Figure 4).
Figure 4. Leading nations in per capita
feature film admissions in 2009.
Rather than feeling threatened by media competition from other nations, we should celebrate our good fortune. Flourishing domestic cinema industries in other countries increase opportunities for U.S. media exports and jobs for Americans, enrich our own cultural products, and promote peace and understanding. As students and faculty in Loyola’s Emerging Media program, we should remember that we participate in a truly global media marketplace. Media are emerging—globally. (These statistics came from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s [UNESCO] Institute for Statistics Data Centre at Cinema: Exhibition of Feature Films, 2009, http://stats.uis.unesco.org.)
Russell J. Cook, Ph.D.
Loyola University Maryland