Accounting for Taste: Differences in Genre Popularity Across the World

June 10

I recently came across an article called “The Relative Popularity of Genres Around the World” by Stephen Follows and Bruce Nash.

About how liked (or disliked) certain genres are in different countries, it’s a fascinating piece of research.

I thought it’d be a good idea to take a look at their findings.

Let’s dive 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. This is, after all, the country that gave us its very own comedy subgenre: commedia all’italiana (or “Comedy the Italian Way”).

“Italy really loves comedy movies.”

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

South Koreans, generally speaking, like the genre to be part of a blend in their films. Parasite, for instance: a movie that’s as much a comedy as it is a thriller and drama.

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

Let’s take a look at action movies.

This is an interesting one.

Whereas Italians are the world’s great lovers of comedy, with a score of 30% below, they’re not too fond of action.

South Korea, who weren’t keen on comedy, love it as much as the Italians don’t: they have a high rating of 40%. 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 gave us Bruce Willis, Sly Stallone and Chuck Norris, North America’s rating of 17% below is very surprising indeed.

Documentaries are huge in the US and Canada. Given the ubiquity of brands like National Geographic and Discovery, as well as names like Neil deGrasse Tyson, this isn’t unexpected.

“Documentaries are huge in the US and Canada.”

The two countries have produced some excellent feature-lengths recently – Apollo 11, RBG, American Factory and Free Solo to name a few – and this has established them as leaders in documentary filmmaking.

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

But this doesn’t mean that they don’t produce documentaries, and good ones too: Jiro Dreams of Sushi is one of my perfonal faves, and Last Train Home, Old Partner and Up the Yangtze are worth checking out too.

Remember what I wrote 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 rating for drama.

This is the country that gave us everything from Shakespeare to Austen to The Crown; surely there has to be a greater appreciation than 2% below?

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

Considering their lack of love for comedies (24% below), it’s interesting that Russians like the genre a lot more when there’s some romance thrown in.

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

I recently researched the Russian market and it struck me that, along with action and historical films, the country produces a lot of rom-coms.

“Russia produces a lot of rom-coms.”

Status Free, Ice 2, Imperfect Man and How I Became Russian come to mind; cheerful, easygoing crowd-pleasers that packed Russian cinemas.

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 well here. Both went to number one at the domestic box office, and accrued higher grosses in Mexico than in similarly-sized territories.

The country has a healthy market for homegrown romances too; Tod@s caen with a gross of $136 million, was 2019’s best performing Mexican language film.

Mexican cinemagoers are an open-minded bunch; not only do they love romance, but horror movies too.

This is what critic Justina Bonilla had to say about the country’s ties to the genre (I recommend reading the original article here):

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 flipside of the coin, the genre dies a gruesome death in China 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.


Follows and Nashs’ figures aren’t an exact science, and there will always be exceptions. Action films that do well in Italy for instance, or horrors that fall flat in Mexico.

Nevertheless, there’s no doubting that it’s an important and insightful piece of cinematic research.

“It's an important and insightful piece of cinematic research.”

The findings show us, not just the specific likes and dislikes of a given country, but how changeable and fluid genre popularity is; depending on the territory and culture, you can have wildly different results.

To each their own, I guess!

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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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