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Editorials

Parasite and Foreign Language Films in the UK

February 26, 2020
Parasite Movie

Since Parasite became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture (at the Oscars), many have asked if this marks the beginning of more prominence for international films in English-speaking territories?

Well, today we’re going to look at the performance of international films in the UK. Looking at the number of non-English language films that get released in the UK, their box office takings, the factors that affect this and how Parasite’s recent triumph could impact the industry in the future.

2018 Foreign Language Release Numbers

Recent BFI statistics show that 331 films released in 2018 were entirely in a foreign language. This marked a decrease from the 349 entirely foreign language releases in 2017. But international releases still accounted for 43% of UK releases overall. And the number of different languages represented in UK cinemas increased. From 38 languages other than English in 2017 to 44 in 2018.

The Box Office Numbers

Foreign-language releases in 2018 made £30 million at the box office. The joint highest taking (2016 taking the same amount) since 2010.

Many high grossing international films have a dedicated audience in the UK. E.g. The UK has a big Bollywood audience with the highest-grossing foreign-language film of 2018 was Padmaava. A Hindi film which, according to the BFI, grossed £2.2 million (across 137 cinemas). The UK also has a big Polish community (it is the most common non-native language in England and Wales). So films like Clergy made £1.3 million (shown at 237 cinemas), and Cold War made £1.1 million (shown in 79 cinemas).

However, many of the other best-performing films had a great amount of exposure from film festivals and awards ceremonies. Which helped gain more interest from broader English speaking audiences. For example, Shoplifters won the Palme d’Or and earned £0.7 million across 43 cinemas. Making it the second-highest-grossing foreign-language film not in Polish or Hindi. And A Fantastic Woman won Best Foreign-Language Film at the 2018 Oscars helping it to earn £0.4 million across 38 cinemas.

The Success of Parasite

Parasite received several accolades prior to its UK release. These included the Palme d’Or, the BAFTA for best screenplay and best foreign-language film and many more. But since its Oscar win Parasite has become the third highest-grossing non-English language film at the UK box office. Earning a total of £5.1 million. Only beaten out by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (£9.4 million) and Passion of the Christ (£11.1 million). And it increased its cinema presence, from 137 screens to 428. Showing that the prestige of the award helped to further advertise the film to English speaking audiences. And convinced more theatres to show it.

This historic victory also coincides with a recent growing demand for international content. According to Curzon CEO Philip Knatchbull, the rise of non-English content on TV and streaming services like Netflix has helped to change attitudes towards foreign language products. Showing that there are audiences craving foreign language content and that there is a possibility for a new generation of English speakers to emerge who become accustomed to and more appreciative of world cinema.

What does this mean?

Parasite has proven that something has changed in the zeitgeist. Foreign language films usually struggle at the UK box office. Largely due to a perceived lack of interest from larger audiences. However, Parasite‘s Oscar win proves that foreign-language films are more accessible than ever. And are capable of captivating and performing well with English speaking cinema audiences when given the chance and the marketing.

Hopefully, Parasite‘s success coupled with the emergence of modern audiences more appreciative of foreign content, and the big awards ceremonies providing publicity for non-English language films means that bigger British audiences will soon be watching the wide variety of international films available at the cinema. And that more marketing; showcasing opportunities will be available for these films to reach larger audiences. Which is important.

More box office earnings mean more languages and cultures will be represented at the cinema. And exposure to foreign cinema helps us to discover great stories, new methods of storytelling and it allows us to learn more about and empathize with other cultures, traditions and ways of life. And that’s always a good thing.

Also Read: Parasite Director Once Described The Oscars As “Very Local” – Does He Have a Point?

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Josh Greally
Writer and filmmaker from Chesterfield. I have a masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.

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