Cinema Interesting

How films are released in the UK

I recently came across an interesting post over at Big Picture Research that pointed to all sorts of interesting data published by the UK Film Council.

They have made two spreadsheets available about UK film production and distribution from January 2003 to September 2008.

One details UK film production by quarter, Q1 2003 to Q3 2008 with data on the different types of UK funded films, trends over the last few years, the different types of production and four graphical charts dislaying the information.

The other is a list of films from 2003 to 2008 which is a list of all films produced in whole or part in the UK that have been tracked by the UK Film Council. These are the films that underlie the production data reported elsewhere on their site. (UPDATE 17/11/08: Thanks to David Steele of the UK Film Council for leaving a comment below correcting an earlier post).

Actual budget numbers are harder to come by, but it is a still pretty illuminating set of statistics.

The also have some basic facts about distribution in 2007:

  • The top ten distributors had a 95% share of the market in 2007, down 1% on 2006.
  • Weekends (Friday to Sunday) accounted for 64% of the box office.
  • Opening weekends represented 29% of the total box office.
  • Estimated total advertising spend was £179.5 million, an increase of 5% on 2006.  
  • Approximately £48 million was spent on advertising British films.

One other set of stats on the site also caught my eye, which was a table showing the different film distributors in the UK & Ireland, and how they did in 2007:    

It lists their market share, how many films they released and the grosses at the box office:

Distributor Market share (%) Films on release 2007 Box office gross (£ million)
Warner Bros 15.6 32 141.5
Paramount 14.7 31 133.7
20th Century Fox 13.9 27 126.3
Universal Pictures 13.9 24 126.3
Walt Disney Studios 10.7 23 97.3
Entertainment 9.5 25 86.7
Sony Pictures 8.2 28 74.4
Momentum 3.4 18 30.9
Icon 2.3 13 21.1
Lionsgate 2.3 22 20.9
Sub-total 94.5 243 859.1
Others (63 distributors) 5.5 329 49.6
Total 100.0 572 908.7

They also the box office percentage share by weekday/weekend over the period from 2003-2007.

In other words, which day of the week audiences like to go the cinema:

  2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Friday 16.0 15.3 18.0 16.5 16.4
Saturday 26.6 24.5 27.0 25.1 27.8
Sunday 18.7 19.9 19.0 18.7 19.3
Weekend 61.3 59.7 64.0 60.3 63.5
Monday 8.9 9.7 8.0 9.5 7.2
Tuesday 10.0 10.1 8.0 9.5 9.0
Wednesday 9.8 10.7 10.0 10.9 11.6
Thursday 10.0 9.8 10.0 9.7 8.7
Weekday 38.7 40.3 36.0 39.7 36.5
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

As they themselves put it:

In 2007, 64% of the box office was taken at weekends (Friday to Sunday), up from 60% in 2006, as Table 8.4 shows.

This reflects the stronger performance of the blockbusters and their proportionately higher opening weekend box office gross figures. 

They also have a chart showing a breakdown of the estimated advertising spend on a film in 2007:

TV 74.1
Outdoor 65.3
Press 27.0
Radio 8.4
Internet 4.7
Total 179.5

The total of £179.5 million was a rise of 4.8% from £171.3 million in 2006. 

Sometimes people I speak to in the UK are bemused by the US obsession with opening weekend grosses, but the inescapable reality is that, for any kind of film in the UK or US, the opening weekend is critical.

Though there are exceptions (The Shawshank Redemption and Donnie Darko leap to mind) the opening weekend is vital at establishing the film in cinemas and on subsequent releases on DVD, pay TV and other platforms (e.g. iTunes).

This means that distributors spend a lot of money on advertising in order to create awareness across a range of different media. These include ads on TV, outdoor posters, print, radio and online.

All of this made me think not only about how films are released but also about how I cover them. Generally, for my radio outlets I list the big 2 or 3 releases and discuss them.

If a more limited release (e.g. one that is screened in ‘key cities’) is of particular note then I’ll also talk about that too.

That’s fairly normal and generally all critics do is give their opinion on what’s out there. But I think there is some value in digging a bit deeper and exploring individual releases, how they are released and why people go to see them.

A few months ago I made the conscious decision to list all the UK cinema releases each Friday, splitting them into national and selected sections.

You’ll see that alongside the big films from major studios and more arthouse releases are Bollywood films (that tend to get very limited coverage in UK national media) and quirky releases that you’ve probably never heard of that get released in just a handful of cinemas. 

Part of the reason for the lists is to create a snapshot of each weekend but also to be useful to readers of this site, as it can be difficult to get decent archived listings data with some type of context.

The national releases are the ones at multiplexes up and down the land (e.g, Quantum of Solace, Saw 5) and the selected releases are films such as Hunger (which got released on about 50 screens across the UK in major cities) and more esoteric fare like OSS 117: Cairo – Nest Of Spies, which screens at a London arthouse cinema like the ICA.

But for the rest of this month I want to do something a little bit more and not just review the actual film but also how they get released.

Why? Well, I think it might be illuminating to explore the different aspects of how we see a film from the how it got green lit, produced, marketed, how the UK distributor handles the actual release and how well it does at the box office.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to select a cross section of films and write about them in more depth with these factors in mind.

Next week I’ll start by examining the release of Body Of Lies (a big budget studio thriller with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe) and then explore a film each week after that.  

I’ll write about each one in a separate post but I also want your opinion, be it a general vibe from the advertising or your verdict after seeing it at your local cinema.

At the end of the two week period, I post links to all the individual posts and hopefully we’ll have some interesting impressions on how different films are released in the UK.

> Check the Big Picture Research blog
> Find out more facts about British films and distributors at the UK Film Council site
> Our list of all the cinema releases in November 2008

2 replies on “How films are released in the UK”

Dear Ambrose,

Many thanks for highlighting the UK Film Council research material. I just wanted to point out one misunderstanding. The films list is not a list of British qualifying films. It is a list of films produced in whole or part in the UK and therefore entering into the measurement of film production in the UK. Most of the films are British qualifying, but not all. I’ll make this point clearer next time we update the list. Also, we’ll discuss with DCMS the publication of a list of British qualifying films to avoid ambiguity. There will be a lag between the two lists. We record films produced by the date of commencement of principal photography. The British qualifying list will depend on when film producers submit their applications for approval and when approval is granted.

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