Deconstructing the Foreign Film Industry in America

June 12, 2018

Photo courtesy of Unsplash 


In recent years, foreign television and movies have become noticeably less popular. International films, though successful in global markets, rarely appear in American theaters or attract Netflix-watchers. Global classics such as “Amelie” and “Love Actually” are harder to come across nowadays due to Hollywood’s prominence in worldwide cinema.


This could be possible due to the fluctuation of American, silver screen films. Since the American audience is puzzling to please, their preferences are not subject to any particular trend, and the next Hollywood blockbuster is impossible to predict. With this in mind, directors have a difficult time making it big in America, especially if they are unfamiliar with what works and what does not.

It is quite unfortunate that many American viewers have not come to appreciate foreign films yet; their fear of the subtitle has averted them from numerous quality movies and series. However, we are in an era of streaming, in which platforms like Netflix and Hulu bridge gaps between oceans so that users can easily access undiscovered films. Recently, foreign TV shows such as “3%” (Brazil) and “The Rain” (Denmark) have gained popularity among American audiences, but what sets them apart from all the other television shows?


An abundance of international television has appeared on Netflix, and foreign Netflix Original films have become increasingly prevalent on American televisions. The Netflix show “Hotel Beau Sejour” is a Belgian thriller series about a girl who discovers her own dead body before seeking out her killer with the help of the few who can see her. “I Am Not an Easy Man” (France) is about a misogynistic man who wakes up to an alternate world where gender roles are reversed. A huge variety of underappreciated films, when noticed by American audiences, go overlooked due to the language barrier. According to The New York Times, major studios avoid subtitled films due to their unpopularity amongst U.S. audiences.


Though subtitles may be a setback for international motion pictures, this doesn’t consider British television and other international films in English. “The Office” is one of the most popular TV shows in America, and its counterpart “The Office” (U.K.) was the original inspiration. However, the U.S. version is seemingly more appealing to audiences, as it is viewed more frequently on Netflix than than the other. Although “The Office” (U.K.) was the original story behind the hit American series, it still didn’t reach as many audiences as its sequel.


As similar as they may seem, sharing language and Western culture, Britain and the United States have many differences when it comes to the film industry. Because of this, and along with films from other countries, Americans are apprehensive due to their lack of experiences in watching what they are not familiar with. According to Tyler Cowen, economics professor at George Mason university, “a feeling of comfort” must be present for the American viewer to enjoy the movie. It is no wonder why; Hollywood productions have been dominating international theaters since the very beginning.


So what makes a foreign film a little less foreign to an American viewer? There seems to be a trend amid popular international films in America: the dystopian future setting seems to be a common denominator among worldwide cinema. “The Rain,” a European show about mysterious rain carrying a virus that sweeps out half of the population, has a plot to grab people’s attention no matter where they are from. Maybe it is because a post-apocalyptic theme can attract viewers from all corners of the globe, yet on the contrary, some might argue that the best part of watching a foreign film is discovering differences and similarities in unfamiliar places, not just viewing something that could vaguely relate to anyone. This is evident in the lesser known British series “Borderline,” a “mockumentary” about border patrol agents working at a small airport in Northend, England. Although it gives off a vibe much like “The Office” (U.S.), American viewers are much less familiar with this than a paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania.


With the decreasing interest in foreign films by American studios and audiences alike, open-mindedness is an important factor in appreciating the art of international movies and television. Though these films are more overlooked in the U.S. than other genres, the presently varied options on so many streaming devices easily offers viewers the chance to discover new perspectives on 21st century foreign cinema.


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