Every year, Hollywood creates hundreds of theatrical releases and exports, many of those films overseas, contributing to Hollywood’s yearly revenue of over $10 billion. Hollywood also gave rise to the blockbuster, big-budget spectacle films designed for easy watching with explosions, romance, impressive graphics, and exciting plots. However, the U.S. film industry easily overtakes more regional fare; many countries just cannot compete with the heavily promoted, CGI-laden films that Hollywood distributes.
But, some countries have overcome this challenge and developed their own massive film industry, becoming competitive and often surpassing the U.S. in terms of volume, quality, and appeal. While many of us are familiar with the films from Japan, France, UK, and Germany and so on, some of the largest producers of films in the world might surprise you.
So, here are three countries with booming movie industries and films that make them great.
1. South Korea
South Korea is an Asian media powerhouse. Forget PSY, he’s just a drip on the massive iceberg that is Korean music, film and TV; because, not only does Korea tend to consume more domestic entertainment than foreign, but China, Japan, and much of Southeast Asia also rely on the South Korean entertainment industry.
While domestic films in Korea went up and down for a while, in the 90s, film finally came into its own; the 1999 film Shiri was immensely popular and managed to create more funding and interest in domestically produced films. Since then, Korea has mandated that at least 40% of all films shown need to be domestic, meaning that in the past 10 years, Korean films have outstripped foreign films in terms of box office revenue and ticket sales. In 2012 alone, domestic films earned $44 million whereas foreign films brought in $35 million.
Korean films often pull from the country’s own troubled history, (Japanese occupation, Korean War, the division of the peninsula), meaning that many of the films are both historical and deeply personal. Add to that, Korea’s love of romance, slapstick humor, and drama, and you have a viable and impressive film industry.
If you’re interested in sampling Korean films, try the 2000 film, JSA (Joint Security Area) about North and South Korean soldiers who become friends while stationed at the demilitarized zone. Or, the heartwarming (if a bit campy) Miracle in Cell Number 7 (2013) about a mentally handicapped man who is falsely charged with murder and his relationship with his 6-year-old daughter.
Apparently nicknamed Nollywood, Nigeria comes in second place (after India) in highest number of films produced: 876 in 2006, almost double the United States for the same year. Almost 50 films a week are produced; in Nigeria, only the government employs more people than the film industry.
These films are often straight to DVD releases featured in English (for a wider distribution) and are rarely filmed in a studio. Rather, its commonplace to see film crews in the streets, or apartment buildings and offices rented out for a few weeks; these films are quickly cut and then distributed to much of Africa (especially Ghana).
In fact, such easy and quick distribution of Nigerian films has given concern to some about the “Nigerianisation” of Africa, a worry that Nigerian culture will stamp out more regional cultures and dialects.
While most Nigerian films are produced quickly, with maybe little concern for quality, thematically, Nigerian cinema is very in-tune with the struggles of Africa. Films often cover topics about conflicts over faith, balancing modernity and tradition, and of course, the struggles of family. In some ways, Nigerian film seems more realistically grounded in the troubles of the everyman and the search for a better life than most of Western cinema: Nigerian films focus more on the journey of progression, rather than the completion.
Because most Nigerian films go straight to video, it can be difficult to get a hold of a copy, so instead, consider watching one these acclaimed documentaries about Nigerian film: This is Nollywood by Franco Sacchi and Robert Caputo (2006), or Welcome to Nollywood by Jamie Meltzer (2007).
If you’re interested in moving straight to Nigerian cinema though, The Amazing Grace (2006) about a British slave trader who reforms and goes on to write the song, Amazing Grace, or Osoufia in London (2003), a comedy about an African deer hunter who ends up in England.
India is by far the largest producer of films in the world; in 2011, India created over 1,000 feature films and 1,500 short films. Indian cinema also covers some of the largest ground, with nine different regions producing their own films in sixteen different languages, making it also one of the most diverse film industries in the world.
There seems to be some confusion though about Indian cinema in the West, since the entirety of Indian cinema is often called, “Bollywood” while in reality, Bollywood is only in reference to films produced in Mumbai (Bombay) in the Hindi-language. Bollywood is the largest producer of films in India, but it’s not alone in its influence or even its nickname. The film industry for example in Chennai is known as Kollywood, Bangladore as Sandalwood, and so on.
Indian cinema is generally upbeat and optimistic in nature, featuring strong family values with very little sex or violence; indeed, Indian films are still censored and highly regulated; even "subversive political" themes are closely monitored. But, Indian cinema is generally a joyous spectacle of community, religion, family, music, dance, and love, and watching these films is an incredible sensory experience.
If you’re interested in Indian films, consider watching the critically acclaimed film, Lagaan (2001) about tax laws and class warfare hinging on an epic cricket game in Victorian India (nominated for an Academy Award in Best Foreign Language Film). Or for something more recent, the overwhelmingly popular, revenue-record-smashing 2009 film, 3 Idiots, a coming of age story for three university students.