Accounting for Taste: Differences in Genre Popularity Across the World

June 10

I recently came across an article entitled “The Relative Popularity of Genres Around the World“, where the writers, Stephen Follows and Bruce Nash, look at how liked (or disliked) different genres are in a given country.

It’s a fascinating piece of research, and I thought it’d be worthwhile to give it a closer look.

Let’s dive right in.

If we take 0% as the global average of a genre’s popularity, we can see, with a rating of 83%, that Italy really loves comedy movies.

I wasn’t surprised to see this. Ever since the birth of Commedia all’italiana (or “Comedy the Italian Way”) in the 1950s, the country has excelled at producing comedies that are loved by critics and audiences alike.

“Italy excels at producing comedies that are loved by critics and audiences alike.”

This applies right up to the present day, with films, like 2019’s Momenti di trascurabile felicità and Ma cosa ci dice il cervello, upholding the country’s proud comedic tradition.

At the opposite end, with a score of 64% below the global average, is South Korea.

However, an important point to note here is that they, generally speaking, like it to be part of a blend in their films – think Parasite for instance, which is as much a comedy as it is a thriller and drama.

So it mightn’t be a case that they dislike the genre, but rather that they prefer it to be another colour in an eclectic mix.

Let’s take a look at action movies.

Now, this is an interesting one.

Whereas Italians are the world’s greatest comedy lovers, with a score of 30% below, the same doesn’t apply for action.

And South Korea, who weren’t keen on comedy, love it as much as the Italians don’t – they have a high rating of 40%. It seems the two countries have the opposite taste in films!

The birthplace of Kung Fu, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, it’s not surprising that China tops the list.

However, for a country that has given us Willis, Stallone, Smith and Schwarzenegger (ok, I know he’s Austrian but still) and everything from The Matrix to The Avengers to The Dark Knight, North America’s rating of 17% below is startling.

Perhaps Americans don’t love big guns, fast cars and loud explosions as much as we might assume? Well, in that case, what do they like?

Documentaries! This genre is huge in the US and Canada, and, given the ubiquity of brands like National Geographic and Discovery, and names like Neil deGrasse Tyson, this isn’t unexpected.

“Documentaries are huge in the US and Canada.”

The popularity is due, in no small part, to the excellent feature-length documentaries that the country has produced recently. Apollo 11, RBG, American Factory, Free Solo… These, as well as others, have established the country as a global leader in the genre.

There’s a correlation across three Asian countries (South Korea, Japan and China) in terms of documentaries, who all score well below the global average.

But this doesn’t mean that they don’t produce them, and good ones too. Jiro Dreams of Sushi comes to mind – about a son trying to follow in the footsteps of his father, revered sushi chef Jiro Ono, it’s one of the greatest docs ever made. Last Train Home, Old Partner and Up the Yangtze are well worth seeking out too.

Remember what I said about South Korea and Italy having opposing tastes? Well, hold that thought, because, with scores of 50% and 40% respectively, both countries find common ground in a love of drama.

But the most curious stat here is the UK.

Much like how I was taken aback by the US’ lack of love for action, I was surprised by the UK’s unenthused attitude towards drama.

Considering it has such a proud and longstanding dramatic tradition, what with everything from Shakespeare to Austen to The Crown, surely there must be a greater appreciation than 2% below?

My theory is is that this is where we see a limitation in Follows and Nash’s study – in that by sticking to films alone, we don’t see a complete representation of a country’s preferences.

I would wager that if dramas of the stage, novels and TV were included, we’d see the UK right at the top of this one. Perhaps that’s a study for another time!

It’s interesting that, considering where they stood on comedies (24% below), is how Russians like them a lot more when there’s some romance thrown in.

I wasn’t entirely surprised when I saw this, though.

One of our clients, Ethiopian Airlines, recently started taking Russian films onboard, and this has given me the chance to research their market. It struck me, as well as action and historical films, that the country produces a notably high amount of rom-coms.

“Russia produces a notably high amount of rom-coms.”

Status Free, Ice 2, Imperfect Man and How I Became Russian are just a few that come to mind – movies that, while perhaps not critically loved, are all crowd-pleasers that performed well at the Russian box office.

Mexico leads the way with a score of 18% above.

Recent romance-tinged Hollywood blockbusters, like The Shape of Water and Fifty Shades Freed, did particularly well here – both hit the number one box office spot on their respective release weeks, and brought in higher grosses here than in territories of a similar size.

The country has a healthy market for local romances too. Tod@s caen, for example, is a typical Mexican rom-com that, with a gross of $136 million, was their highest grossing homegrown film of 2019.

Mexican cinemagoers are an openminded bunch because, not only do they love romance, but horror movies too.

Much like Italy and comedy, their country has a proud and enviable tradition in the genre, something which critic Justina Bonilla succinctly sums up it up in this article:

Mexican horror is one of the most unique and distinctive voices in international horror cinema. Initially inspired by early American horror and German Expressionist films, Mexican horror filmmakers combined these foreign influences with their Catholic traditions and indigenous folklore, resulting in a veritable treasure trove of gothic and fantasy stories.

On the other side of the coin, the genre dies a death in Chine where we see the highest disapproval rating yet – 100% below the global average. Roger Garcia, executive director of the Hong Kong film festival, gave his take in this 2016 interview:

In China, you are making either a romance or a big special-effects movie. If you want to do horror, or other genres, you cannot be in China. You can make a budget sci-fi movie in Hollywood, but Chinese audiences will not like that.

To each their own, I suppose!


Follows and Nashs’ figures, of course, aren’t an exact science, and there will always be exceptions to the rules – action films that do well in Italy for instance, or horrors that fall flat in Mexico.

Nevertheless, taken with a slight pinch of salt, it’s still a really valuable and insightful piece of research.

“It's a really valuable and insightful piece of research.”

The findings show us, not just the specific likes and dislikes of a given country, but how genre popularity isn’t a static thing, but fluid and shifting depending on the territory.

It will no doubt prove useful as I continue to look for content that our clients, and their passengers, will love to watch as 20,000 feet.

Written by Conor Regan, Senior Content Acquisitions Executive.

At Inflight Dublin, we pride ourselves on providing the highest quality film, TV and audio content to our clients. If you’d like to learn how we can do the same for your airline, make sure to get in touch – you contact us here.

Image Credits

  • Images created by Inflight Dublin, based on the research by Stephen Follows and Bruce Nash of the American Film Market.

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