Why are foreign films so little demanded in the United States?

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

One other reason that Americans are not partial to foreign films is that most are in foreign languages, including French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Farsi. Many people have told me  they can't enjoy a movie if they have to keep reading subtitles.

As far as films made in England are concerned, the English do not seem to have a big movie industry, although they produce many excellent films for television. They probably do not produce a lot of movies because those they have produced have not been very successful. They are in competition with American films using the same spoken language, but they don't have the stars or the budgets, and some of their best actors come to Hollywood where the money is.

Many foreign films seems to have been made on extremely low budgets. Typically, the story is about people doing something out in the country or in some picturesque village where no money is required for building interior or exterior sets. The people making the movies may not even own the equipment but just rent it and drive out to the boondocks to shoot everything by daylight to save even on lighting. Naturally the actors and actresses all wear their own clothes and don't require costumers.

It seems to me that a typical French picture involves a man and woman who go off on a second honeymoon or something and spend much of their time in an old house eating spaghetti and drinking wine when they are not making love. Another favorite story involves a romantic interlude at some beach. Beaches are extremely popular because they cost nothing.

A typical American movie features a big star or a couple of big stars, male and female. The stars insist on what they call good production values. They want top directors and top cameramen, and the quality shows in the product. An American flick can easily cost $30-million at the low end, whereas the typical foreign flick looks as if it was made for less than a million. In order to be successful, a foreign film should have a big budget, but in order to have big budgets the foreign films would have to be successful. Foreigners have risked big money on films in the past and have frequently had flops because they didn't have the professional direction, camerawork, writing, and technical support that is so bountifully available in Hollywood.

I watch lots of foreign films. My impression is that a lot of these filmmakers don't understand how to put a good movie together. The stories are often dull and pointless, mainly because the writers don't know how to write and nobody knows how to tell the writers how to write because they are relying on the writer. Some of Godard's movies are frankly terrible. Some of Turffaut's are not good. Many foreign flicks are undramatic. So many of them involve eating a lot of spaghetti, drinking a lot of wine, talking a lot of outdated intellectual gibberish, and hopping into bed.

That doesn't mean that Hollywood pictures are all so great. Most of them seem like the same old cops and robbers or boy meets girl. Robert Altman's fine picture The Player seems to suggest that every possible plot has already been done. The media are voraciious. They gobble up every conceivable conflict and setting and situation. Lately they seem to be relying heavily on special effects and explosions. They manage to keep going because there are always new people being born to whom this is new stuff, and also there are always new male and female faces to be shown on the screens.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The reasons for the low demand for foreign films in the United States surely have to do with consumer tastes and with the availability of substitutes. 

First, there are many substitutes for foreign films.  There is, of course, a very large American film industry that puts out many films each year.  However, we must also note that there are many TV programs that can draw people away from potentially being interested in foreign films.  If there were fewer options, foreign films might do better.

Second, there is the matter of taste.  Perhaps because of how dominant the US film industry was for a long time, Americans have gotten used to American films.  Filmmakers in other countries have developed different styles of movies as an alternative to American films.  For example, “Bollywood” films tend to be long, have lots of song and dance numbers, and be melodramatic.  These are not characteristics that Americans typically like in modern movies.   There is no way to objectively account for tastes.  All we can say is that Americans typically do not care for foreign cinematic types, even when those films are done in English.

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