Statistics! Who doesn’t love ’em?? We’re going to look at the movies released in the first half of 2018, but let me warn you: There are probably a lot more than you realize.
If you want to see a list of every movie released in the U.S. in a particular year, all you have to do is go to the appropriate page on Box Office Mojo, right? Wrong! The 2018 page lists 335 movies (which includes re-releases and one-night Fathom events, which don’t count for our purposes), but the real number is higher.
The actual number of movies that have opened in the U.S. in 2018 — by which we mean they played at least once a day for at least a week in at least one American theater — is over 600. That’s 70 wide releases (showing on 600+ screens) and at least 545 limited releases. I say “at least” because there’s no centralized method of keeping track, and my own efforts have probably missed a few.
Nobody is required to report their box office numbers. The big studios and mid-sized indies do it so they can be part of the conversation, but nobody’s forcing them (or verifying their accounting, but that’s another issue). The small distributors have no reason to bother reporting their data unless it’s exceptional. So Box Office Mojo and similar sites are as thorough as they can be, but since they only list the movies whose box office numbers are published, there are hundreds of movies they don’t list.
I’ve been keeping track on my own: scanning showtimes for major cities each week, looking at what’s reviewed in the New York and L.A. papers, cross-checking IMDb’s and Rotten Tomatoes’ lists of new releases to verify that the films actually come out. You wouldn’t believe (or maybe you would) how disorganized it is, especially when a movie is playing in a single theater and that theater isn’t in a top-10 city.
In addition to release dates and titles, I’ve also been tracking each movie’s primary language, source material, runtime, and MPAA rating, and the gender and nationality of the director. VOD releases (including Netflix) count if there’s a simultaneous theatrical release (yes, Netflix sometimes puts its movies in one or two theaters, for people who like to pay for free things).
I think you’ll be surprised at some of the data that emerges when we crunch the numbers. To make things easier, I’ve divided the movies into three groups: wide releases (70), limited releases (443), and documentaries (102). Documentaries are a subset of limited releases (no wide-release docs so far this year), but I wanted to look at them separately from narrative films for reasons.
There have been 70 wide releases in 2018 — five animated, 65 live-action — made by a total of 75 directors.
Nine of the 70 are what I’m calling “auteur” films, meaning a single person (or duo) is credited as both writer and director. (A movie being based on a preexisting property doesn’t disqualify it if the director also adapted it.) Of those nine auteur films, seven were written/directed by men, one by a woman (Bethany Ashton Wolf, Forever My Girl), and one by a man and woman together (Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, I Feel Pretty).
Unsurprisingly, moving away from the Hollywood studio system finds a better gender ratio among directors, but it’s still not great. Out of 463 directors of limited-release films, 66 (14.3%) are women.
The “auteur” category fills up here, too. A whopping 40 of the 61 female-directed films (two-thirds!) were written by those same females. Among the 377 male-directed films, 154 (41%) were made by “auteurs.” Clearly, women and men both have a much better shot at writing and directing their own projects outside of Hollywood than inside.
After English, the most common primary language of movies released in the U.S. is … Telugu. Telugu is spoken by more than 70 million people in India, but only around 370,000 people in America — and 29 films in that tongue have been released in 2018. If you’re an American who speaks Telugu, there’s been a new movie targeted at you every weekend this year.
I was astonished to find how many Indian films are released here, not just in Telugu but in Hindi (20 movies), Punjabi (9), Malayalam (8), Tamil (6), Kannada (3), Urgu (3), or a combination of Telugu and Tamil (2) — a total of 78 movies, or 17% of all limited releases, have come from India. (Only 3 of those 78 were directed by women.) Many never play in more than one theater at a time, and very few publish their box office returns, but they’re obviously finding enough of an audience.
Shortest runtime: 68 minutes, Sign Gene.
Longest runtime: 185 minutes, Kaala.
Average runtime: 106 minutes.
Average runtime if we omit the Indian films: 98.9 minutes.
Average runtime of the Indian films: 139.7 minutes
Bottom line: You get your money’s worth when you see an Indian movie.
I haven’t kept track of “auteur” documentaries. Some docs don’t credit a writer at all, and there’s a wide range of what “written by” can mean for a non-fiction film. But I’ve begun to rethink this and might go back and gather the stats by the end of the year for the thrilling conclusion of this project.
Shortest runtime: 61 minutes (TIE), Viva Kino and Nossa Chape. (This is about as short as a movie can be and still qualify, as anything under 60 minutes probably wouldn’t play by itself for the regular price of admission.)
Longest runtime: 152 minutes (Bitter Money).
Average runtime: 91.6 minutes.
These stats show the increasing irrelevance of the MPAA rating system. Among wide releases, everything gets submitted for a rating, as required by the agreement between the major studios and the MPAA. But did you know you have to pay the MPAA to rate your movie? And that the fee, depending on the budget of the film, ranges from $2,500 to $25,000? There’s little incentive for indie, art-house, and foreign movies to bother with that, since they’re mostly playing in theaters that don’t care about MPAA ratings anyway. (Some of the big chains like AMC, Regal, etc., have a policy of not playing unrated films.)
Hey, I wonder if female-directed movies are longer or shorter on average than male-directed ones? That seems like a productive question that won’t bother anyone. Looking at all 615 movies, the men average 105.3 minutes, the women 94.1 minutes. But those Indian movies, nearly all made by men, throw off the curve. If we remove those (including the three made by women), the men’s films average 102.1 minutes, the women’s 92.9 minutes. No matter how you look at it, women are getting the job done about 10 minutes faster than their male counterparts.
NOTES ON METHODOLOGY
RUNTIME: It’s common for the New York Times, IMDb, and Rotten Tomatoes to each list a different runtime for the same movie, usually within a couple minutes of each other. I use official sources when I can find them, but we must accept that these figures are not precise.
PRIMARY LANGUAGE: This is sometimes hard to determine without watching the film and using a stopwatch to measure how much screen time each language gets. IMDb tends to list every language that appears in the movie, even if it’s only for a few lines, making it impossible to tell which is the main one. And some movies really are split down the middle — for example, Israeli films often have Arabic and Hebrew in approximately equal measures. So, as with runtimes, there’s a little bit of guesswork involved.
NATIONALITY: This is the director’s country of birth, which is not necessarily the country the movie came from (though it generally is). There were about 20 directors whose origins I couldn’t track down (searching interviews, bios, etc.) and had to make an educated guess.
SOURCE MATERIAL: This is where things get trickiest. For one thing, there’s often some overlap: Death Wish is a remake, but it’s also based on a novel (which is where I put it). The Marvel and DC movies are all based on comic books, but I count them under sequels/franchises because they’re based more on the other films than on the comics. Furthermore, IMDb and other sources don’t always indicate when a movie is an adaptation — heck, sometimes that fact is buried in the closing credits of the movie itself — so it’s likely that some of the films I labeled “original” aren’t.