British films rule the world (sort of)

At least one UK export is thriving: British films took more than £1.6bn at the box office last year...

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Last Updated: 23 Sep 2010

The latest annual report from the UK Film Council reveals that box office takings for British films jumped by more than 50% last year, thanks largely to the success of blockbusters like ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ and ‘The Golden Compass’. Global box office takings were £1.65bn, around half of which was in the UK – that’s 700m tickets sold. Even if a large proportion of those were for the appalling Mr Bean’s Holiday, that’s still something to celebrate. If nothing else, we're starting to corner the market in family films...

Last year wasn’t quite a record for British films – that came in 2005, thanks to the like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – but it did see the biggest single month of UK ticket sales in 40 years, in July. The dismal summer weather inevitably played a part, as did US blockbusters like Transformers. And there was also a big year-on-year increase in the number of UK-made films – they comprised 29% of all films released in the UK, including seven of the top 20 highest-grossing.

However, there is – inevitably – a catch. One reason for this sudden outperformance is that the UKFC has just relaxed its rules about what counts as a British film. So for instance, the Bourne Ultimatum – a Hollywood studio film about an American, starring an American, based on an American book – is counted as a British film because the director Paul Greengrass is British and some of the film was filmed in the UK (the journalist even works for the Guardian, don’t you know). Under the UKFC’s latest guidelines, published last year, a film’s Britishness is assessed against various categories (like characters/ setting/ story/ dialogue/ crew) – and it needs 16 out of a possible 31 points to be included in the results. Some critics argue that this just leads to over-inflated figures (which the UKFC naturally denies).

Still, even if we suspect independent film producers would paint a slightly different picture of the industry’s state of health, one thing is clear – Britons are still going to the cinema in huge numbers. And with the new James Bond and Harry Potter films slated for release later this year, that’s unlikely to stop any time soon. The industry typically does well in a downturn (people need cheering up, after all) so it seemingly has less to fear than most from the coming months...


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