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TV and Film

CASE: Paddington and international film markets

February 22, 2021
Published on:
August 12, 2019
January 5, 2021

Paddington 2’ shows international appeal of UK film

After featuring in more than 150 books, four TV series and a hit movie, do the adventures of Paddington, the accident-prone bear character, still interest viewers?

The global success of ‘Paddington 2’, the live action and animated film, suggests they do.

When the film was released in 2017, it quickly surpassed the benchmark at the Chinese box office of taking more than 100m yuan ($15.1m) during its opening.

With a score of up to 8.4 of 10 on the country’s popular film review website Douban, ‘Paddington 2’ was released in China in English, with British actor Ben Whishaw voicing the bear and in Chinese, with Du Jiang providing the voice.

The film was well-received critically, with a pre-launch local marketing drive leading to it being released in more screens in China than its 2015 predecessor, ‘Paddington’.

According to the film industry website, Box Office Mojo, the movie eventually took an estimated $32.5m in China, and $186m worldwide. This made ‘Paddington 2’ more successful than the first film in the series.

It was also one of the two top-performing UK independent titles – i.e. not US studio backed – across a group of six Asian markets (China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore).

UK movies with international appeal

‘Paddington 2’ exemplifies some key characteristics of the UK-produced movies that appeal to international markets

First, the film’s main character originated in a series of well-established books. The global box office performance of UK films and foreign productions which draw on UK source material is a good indicator of the international impact and exposure of British culture.

The British Film Institute (BFI) estimates that of the top 200 grossing films released worldwide between 2001 and 2017, 34 films were based on stories and characters created by UK writers.

Collectively, these films earned $27 billion (£19 billion at the average exchange rate) at the global box office.

Novels by British writers have provided the source material for three of the top 20 grossing films worldwide since 2001: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’, ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ and ‘Skyfall’.

Second, ‘Paddington 2’ featured a cast of leading actors including Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville and Julie Walters of the Harry Pottter movie series, as well as Ben Whishaw who has a recurring role in the Bond movie franchise.

Much of the appeal of UK films can be traced back to their prominent use of British acting talent.

According to the BFI’s Statistical Yearbook, over 60 per cent (128) of the top 200 films at the global box office since 2001 have featured British actors either in lead/title roles or in the supporting cast.

If animated titles are removed (47 titles), then British acting talent has played lead or supporting roles in 80 per cent of the top live action films between 2001 and 2017.

Overall, films that can be qualified as UK-made according to agreed industry criteria, earned a combined worldwide gross of $8.1 billion in 2017, a 21 per cent share of the global box office, which hit a new record of $39.4 billion.

UK studio-backed films (UK films wholly or partly financed and controlled by US studios but featuring UK cast, crew, locations, facilities, post-production and often UK source material) shared 18.8 per cent of the worldwide box office in 2017, with earnings of $7.3 billion.

The market share for UK studio-backed films fluctuates significantly from year to year and is highly dependent on the performance of a small number of titles.

UK independent films earned 2.1 per cent of global revenues in 2017 with worldwide earnings of $826 million, up from $475 million in 2016.

UK film exports in Asia

UK films earned $2.4 billion across the six selected Asian territories in 2017, the latest year for which the BFI has published full data. Of this figure, over 60 per cent ($1.4 billion) was generated in China.

Transformers: The Last Knight’ ($297 million) was the top performing UK qualifying film across the combined territories. It was also the top UK film in both China (where it earned $239 million) and Malaysia.

Beauty and the Beast’ was the highest grossing film overall in both Hong Kong and Japan as well as being the top UK title in South Korea, while ‘Wonder Woman’ was the most popular UK-filmed title in Singapore. South Korea had the lowest share for UK films (16.9 per cent) across the selected territories, while Japan had the lowest share for UK independent titles (0.8 per cent).

Two different UK independent films were the highest earners across the six Asian territories – 'Paddington 2' and 'Baby Driver'.

UK film’s continued success and growth depends entirely on its ability to maintain a strong global position, as is demonstrated by two key figures.

  • UK production volume was worth on average over £1bn a year and this is 70 per cent financed by the US. So, the importance of international partners is crucial to UK films.
  • Exports of UK film are now worth £1.7bn per year almost three times that of ten years ago. Export income for the typical UK independent British film accounts for an average of two-thirds of total revenues. Therefore, it matters hugely to the  UK film industry that its films continue to appeal to international audiences.

These two pillars of the UK film are at the core of the BFI’s International Strategy.

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