The U.S. trade deficit may have hit a five-year high in January, but at least one American export remains the undisputed world leader: Hollywood films.
Even with growing competition from China and Bollywood, and in spite of the recent wave of America-bashing that seems to have swept the globe, the appetite for this most American of cultural artifacts is robust as ever.
In fact, the most beloved films of moviegoers in the UK, continental Europe and Japan are overwhelmingly and almost exclusively American, and the top three favorite films of all time among these international audiences collectively are Titanic, Star Wars and Harry Potter (in that order).
We know this not because these films made a killing in theaters, but because for the first time ever we asked people and they told us so!
No other source that I’m aware of has compiled an international list of the most beloved films of all time because the project would’ve been too expensive, labor-intensive, and time-consuming to be worthwhile.
Global box office has until now been the one and only measure for a film’s popularity internationally, but even adjusted for inflation it isn’t a perfect proxy for the films people cherish.
So, we asked general population samples (n=1,500 per country) in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Japan as well as 3,000 Americans the following:
“What is your favorite movie of all time (name up to three if you can)?”
Stating the obvious (because it’s important): This was not a multiple-choice question. People could have said anything. In fact, on average, close to 200 unique movie titles were mentioned from each country surveyed.
In total, we collected more than 10,500 text comments from six countries spanning five languages, which OdinText analyzed in just over one hour! Ta da!
If you’re not as impressed as I am by this feat, try fielding an international survey with an open-ended question in five languages (including a non-Roman alphabet like Japanese), then translating, coding and analyzing the responses manually.
Machine translation usually works very well with text analysis, though in a few instances may require a little human knowledge/tweaking. For example, the movie “The Green Mile” was renamed “The Green Line” in France (something that can easily be accounted for in OdinText).
As a standard for comparison, I’ve included two lists below of the top-grossing films of all time worldwide. This first list below, sourced from Wikipedia and originally from Guinness World Records, presents the top 10 films adjusted for inflation as of 2014:
Highest-Grossing Films Worldwide (as of 2014, adjusted for inflation)
Rank | Title | Worldwide gross | (2014 $) | Year
1 Gone with the Wind | $3,440,000,000 | 1939
2 Avatar | $3,020,000,000 | 2009
3 Star Wars | $2,825,000,000 | 1977
4 Titanic | $2,516,000,000 | 1997
5 The Sound of Music | $2,366,000,000 | 1965
6 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial | $2,310,000,000 | 1982
7 The Ten Commandments | $2,187,000,000 | 1956
8 Doctor Zhivago | $2,073,000,000 | 1965
9 Jaws | $2,027,000,000 | 1975
10 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs | $1,819,000,000 | 1937
This second list at Box Office Mojo is not adjusted for inflation like the Guinness list above, but it’s current and more extensive yet is very different than what we found when people are allowed to tell us their favorite movies.
So, how did people’s responses to our question stack up to global box office figures?
As you can see, the top four highest grossing films (adjusted for inflation) in our first chart—“Gone with the Wind,” “Avatar,” “Star Wars,” and “Titanic”—also appeared in the top 10 favorites, albeit not in the same order. The other six highest grossing films did not even make the top international 25 favorites. Similarly, six of the top 10 international favorites were not among the top 10 highest grossing films.
At the individual country levels you’ll note some differences. The top three favorites were very popular in every country, but some of the internationally highest-grossing films were not. “Avatar,” for example, is well-loved everywhere except in the UK and Japan.
And while it's perhaps not surprising that “Gone with the Wind” is a favorite among Americans, the fact that it made the top 10 in France was a surprise to me. And GwtW just missed the top 25 for Japan, coming in #26. It’s actually least popular in Germany, coming in #35 there.
Moreover, not a single domestic film appeared in the top 25 favorites for the UK and Spain, respectively. The closest to a domestic film for Spain was “A Monster Comes to See Me,” whose director is Spanish. German audiences only named one German favorite, and even its title contains a misspelled English curseword: “Fack Ju Gothe.”
France and Japan (below) are particularly noteworthy for several reasons. France is renowned for its film making and its cultural pride, yet conspicuously only one French film appeared in the top 10 favorites of French movie watchers.
Japan, which not only has an established domestic film industry but arguably the most pronounced and culture of the countries sampled, differed the most.
Japanese movie watchers bucked the international trend by listing three Japanese films among their top 10 favorites, most conspicuously by naming a non-U.S. film their number one favorite! (The popularity of the film “Your Name” in Japan was even sufficient to propel the title into the aggregated top 10 across countries!)
In addition, animated films like “Your Name” and “My Neighbor Tortoro” figured prominently among Japanese favorites.
Favorites in other countries like “Dirty Dancing” and “Lord of the Rings” weren’t particularly well-liked by the Japanese, whereas surprises like “Resident Evil” and “Roman Holiday” were favorites.
There are a lot of ways to easily slice these data with OdinText. Just for fun, we asked OdinText what the gender split was for the top favorite:
And if there’s such a thing as a “chick flick,” then there’s also a male equivalent. OdinText identified a number of favorites that were only mentioned by men or by women!
Little White Lies, Bridget Jones, Pearl Harbor, Fifty Shades of Gray, and Sweet Home Alabama are among these ‘Chick Flick Only’ movies, whereas The Good The Bad & The Ugly, Transformers, Zulu, Das Boot, and Super Troopers are examples of Guy only flicks.
While we were at it, we asked a separate gen pop sample of Americans (n=1500) to name the worst movie ever made.
Likely due to the proximity to the Oscars when the survey was fielded, the number one was shockingly “La La Land”! In addition, some of the international favorites and highest grossing films globally—notably “Titanic,” “Avatar,” “Jaws,” and “Star Wars”—were also raspberries for a lot of people. Go figure!
So movie fans, I think you’ll agree we squeezed quite a bit out one open-ended question here!
Not only were we able to provide this data for the first time ever, but we managed to collect, translate and analyze the data quickly, easily and affordably.
That’s six countries, five languages, one open-ended question. And it’s no Hollywood fairytale.
Although we used a direct response instrument to collect the data here, I'd like to point out that OdinText might have been able to do a similar analysis without a survey. For example, in our recent "Showhole" post, OdinText predicted what television shows people would like based on thousands of comments scraped from the Internet.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear what you think!
P.S. Want to conduct your own multi-country, multilingual survey with an open-ended question? Contact us here to talk about it.