Box Office Mojo has data for 839 movies released in 2018. That’s a lot of movies!
It’s also about 500 short.
The actual number of new movies released in the United States in 2018 — “released” = played at least once a day for at least a week in at least one theater — is 1,313, give or take. Those movies were in 50 languages (though mostly English), made by directors from 76 countries (mostly America).
People often assume (as did I before I started this project) that Box Office Mojo tracks every movie that plays in theaters, but that isn’t true. BOM can only track the movies whose box office is reported by their distributors — and reporting isn’t required. Many small distribs (including Netflix for its theatrical releases) don’t bother releasing the numbers unless they’re impressive. (Roma presumably isn’t doing that great in theaters or surely Netflix would have bragged about it. Prove me wrong, Netflix.)
Box Office Mojo and similar sites do a great job with the data they have, and I don’t think they ever claimed to be a complete repository of every movie that comes out. But if you want a list of ALL the movies released … well, there isn’t one.
For example, let’s look at the weekend of Jan. 5, 2018. Ten new movies came out: Insidious: The Last Key, Goldbuster, In Between, Blame, Namiya, Django, Devil’s Gate, Dark Meridian, and documentaries The Green Fog and In the Land of Pomegranates. Box Office Mojo only has data for six of them, plus the re-release of Bob Le Flambeur, which doesn’t count because it wasn’t a new film. (BOM also lists one-night Fathom events, which likewise don’t count for our purposes, further muddying the waters if you’re just looking for a list of new releases.)
So in 2018, I kept track myself. Each week I looked for new movies opening anywhere in the U.S. and added them to a spreadsheet of my own devising. I’d check Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb to see what they had listed as opening that week, then check movie showtimes to confirm that the films were indeed opening as scheduled (which they often weren’t), and comb the listings for a handful of major cities to see what else there was. Even still, there are undoubtedly a few that I missed.
VOD releases (including Netflix) didn’t count unless there was a simultaneous theatrical release. And there were a lot: Of the 1,153 limited-release films (less than 600 theaters), 25% (282) were on VOD at the same time. Indeed, most of those were primarily VOD releases that got a cursory theatrical run to fulfill a contractual obligation and/or to be eligible for awards consideration. Even including wide releases, none of which had simultaneous VOD runs, it’s still 21.6% of all movies that did.
Since I was keeping track anyway, I also noted the following for each film:
– MPAA rating
– Source (book, true story, sequel, original, etc.)
– Gender of director
– Birthplace of director
Looking at the data, we learn some surprising and not-so-surprising things about the state of movies in America. None of these figures are 100 percent accurate because of human error and the slipperiness of some data points, but they’re close enough to give us the big picture.
Those 1,313 films have a total runtime of 138,167 minutes, or 2,302 hours and 47 minutes. Watching every film released in 2018 would mean spending 6 hours and 20 minutes a day on it, every single day. You should not do this. Presumably nobody did.
The average runtime: 105 minutes and change.
But that’s skewed by Bollywood. India exported 154 movies to the U.S. last year — 12% of everything we played — by far the most of any foreign country. (South Korea had 28, China had 27.) And the average runtime on those 154 Indian imports — the average, mind you — is 141 minutes. You get your money’s worth when you see an Indian film. If we take those curve-skewing movies out, the average is a smooth 100 minutes.
Counting just wide releases (which didn’t include any foreign-language films), the average length was 109 minutes. Only 28% were shorter than 100 minutes. Whether this figure is getting higher from year to year is one of the things I’m most interested in discovering.
Documentaries tend to be shorter. The average length was 94 minutes, and that’s including two monstrous outliers, the 260-minute Watergate and 495-minute Dead Souls. Without them, the average is 92 minutes.
Is there a difference in length between films directed by men and films directed by women? As a matter of fact there is. Disregarding films directed by male/female teams, the ladies’ movies average 97 minutes while the men’s are 107. One interpretation: Men tend to be given more leeway. Another interpretation: Women are more efficient storytellers. Feel free to argue about which one you think is correct!
Because some movies have two (or even three) directors, there were a total of 1,395 of them — 283 women (17.1%) and 1,157 men.
Counting just wide releases, though, the ratio is grim: 10 women (5.8%), 162 men.
Women fare better in the documentary world. There were 240 documentaries released last year, made by 275 directors, of which 82 — almost 30% — were female.
Oh, and the Philippines. Seven of the 17 Filipino movies released in the U.S. were directed by Filipino women. I don’t know if that near-equality represents the Filipino film industry as a whole or just the movies that get exported, but it’s an interesting statistical blip that no other country’s exports come close to.
(OK, percentage-wise, two countries do come close: Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. Two directors from each had movies released in the U.S. last year, and all four of them were women.)
Only five of the 161 Indian-born directors were women.
Twelve of the 240 documentaries (5%) were directed by male/female teams, while only 10 of the 1,073 non-docs (a hair under 1%) were.
Does the MPAA rating system still rule the Earth? Maybe not: The vast majority of those 1,313 movies — 877, or 67% — were released without a rating. Another 20% were rated R, 9% were PG-13, 4% were PG, and 0.2% — three movies — were rated G. There were no NC-17s last year, though a handful of the unrated ones would have been NC-17 if they’d been rated (which in some cases is why they weren’t rated). But some of those, especially some of the documentaries, would have been rated G, too.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the MPAA’s rating system is entirely irrelevant. Every film in wide release had a rating, and so did all but a handful of the limited-release films whose grosses were high enough for their distributors to bother reporting them.
You know who doesn’t care about MPAA ratings? People who distribute documentaries. Fully 89% of docs (214 out of 240) were released unrated.
You know who also doesn’t care? Distributors of Indian films. Only three out of 154 bothered to get ratings. That’s a significant subsection of American moviegoers who aren’t being affected by MPAA ratings at all.
Unsurprisingly, most films released in America are in English — 65.5% (860) of them. Among wide releases, that figure is 99.4%, as there was exactly one wide release that wasn’t primarily in English, and it was Alpha, which used a made-up prehistoric gibberish.
After English, what would you expect to be the most common language of movies released in the U.S.? Spanish, right? Wrong! Man, you’re way off. It’s Telugu, spoken by more than 70 million people in India but only around 370,000 people in America — and 59 films in that tongue were released in 2018. If you’re an American who speaks Telugu, there was a new movie targeted at you every weekend.
After English and Telugu, the most common languages were Hindi (49), Chinese (48, all dialects), French (48), Spanish (36), and Korean (29). There were also two films that were silent or had no dialogue (Mercury from India; 24 Frames from France, by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami).
Bear in mind that some films are in multiple languages, and I had to make some educated guesses about what “counts.” IMDb is not useful in this department because a language tends to be included if it’s represented by so much as one line of dialogue. For example, the Overboard remake is in English, with a couple of scenes in Spanish (but not enough for it to be a “Spanish-language film”). IMDb, though, says the movie is in “English, Norwegian, Spanish, and French” — I guess because someone in the movie says something in Norwegian and French at some point. And that’s a movie I saw! When it comes to movies I didn’t see (especially ones from Europe, where there are often several overlapping languages), I had to make judgment calls.
I opted to track where the directors were from instead of where the films were from for two reasons. One is that a person’s biography is simply more interesting than a movie’s. The other is that a lot of movies are international co-productions between two or more countries, and it’s a nebulous concept anyway. If the movie was made in Canada with Canadian funding, but the director, writer, and cast are all American, and it’s released by an American distributor, is that an American film or a Canadian one?
Keep in mind that a director’s birth country isn’t necessarily the same as their citizenship (though it usually is), and there are often surprises, like Red Sparrow director Francis Lawrence having been born in Austria or Marc Forster (Christopher Robin) being from Germany.
This is where we see the melting pot, though it’s still predominantly a white one. Among wide releases, there were five Asian-born directors, one from Africa (South Africa), two from South America (Uruguay and Brazil), and all the rest from America (65%), Europe (19%), Oceania (5%), or Canada (2%).
Of course, nearly all of the wide releases were made in America by American studios for an English-speaking audience. Looking at the limited releases, many of which come from around the world, we see greater diversity, starting with the 161 directors who were born in India. Then it’s England (80), France (52), and Canada (43), followed by 34 each from China and South Korea. In all, those 1,313 movies were made by people born in 76 countries on six continents (no Antarcticans this year).
Everything is sequels and remakes, right? Not entirely! A plurality of wide releases (31.3%) were wholly original, with 21.9% that were documentaries or BOATS (based on a true story). A little more than a quarter of wide releases (26.3%) were sequels, prequels, remakes, or franchise entries, and about one-fifth (20.1%) were based on books, stories, plays, video games, or the Bible.
Source material for limited releases was harder to track down accurately without spending an inordinate amount of time. IMDb doesn’t always indicate whether a movie is based on something, especially when it comes to small foreign films, nor do reviews always mention it. According to my numbers, 76.3% (699) of the 916 non-documentary limited releases were wholly original. Again, that number isn’t correct — I undoubtedly counted some as “original” that were actually adaptations or BOATS — but even if I’m off by a bit it’s still an impressive percentage.
Of the 135 limited-release non-docs directed by women, 76 — more than half — were written by those same women. That’s a better “written and directed by” rate than the male-directed films, where 291 out of 766 (38%) were written by their directors.
No surprise that it’s quite different with wide releases, where studios are reluctant to give so much control to a single person. Only 14% of wide releases were written and directed by the same person, and they were almost all men. The only solo female writer/director was Bethany Ashton Wolf for Forever My Girl, though Abby Kohn co-wrote and co-directed I Feel Pretty with Marc Silverstein.