So it’s always fascinating to dive into the Motion Picture Association of America’s Theatrical Statistics Report, which tracks the growth of overseas movie audiences and breaks out the demographics of U.S. moviegoers.
Some of the numbers in 2015 edition of the report won’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows the movie business and has heard about the increasing influence of Chinese moviegoers, or to anyone who grumbles that action movies aimed at teenage boys are crowding out fare marketed to, well, anyone else.
Overseas, the biggest market for movies is China — and it’s not even close. The Chinese box office clocked in at $6.8 billion last year, a jaw-dropping 49 percent increase from 2014. The United Kingdom’s box office was a distant second at $1.9 billion, followed by Japan’s at $1.8 billion, India’s at $1.6 billion and South Korea’s in fifth place with $1.5 billion.
These numbers dramatize the influence of Chinese audiences in particular and Asia-Pacific countries in general. In 2011, Europe, the Middle East and Africa were a $10.8 billion movie market, and Asia-Pacific countries lagged behind with $9 billion in ticket sales. By 2015, moviegoers in Asia-Pacific countries brought $14.1 billion to the box office, while European, Middle Eastern and African ticket sales had fallen to $9.7 billion. (In the United States, Asian moviegoers had one of the highest per capita attendance rates of any ethic group, attending 4.9 movies each.)
At home, teenagers are the boom market. People between the ages of 12 and 17 bought an average of 7.3 movie tickets per person in 2015; in 2014, that number was 6.4, and the 2015 figure is close to the of 7.6 hit in 2010. Moviegoing among 18-to-24-year-olds fell for the third straight year, though 25-to-39-year-olds and moviegoers over 60 bought slightly more tickets than they had in previous years.
And once again, Hispanics are the most avid U.S. moviegoers, buying 5.2 tickets per capita. That’s down from 6.4 in 2012, but a slight uptick from 2014’s 5.1.
Nonwhite moviegoers made up a majority of the audience for two of the top five grossing movies of 2015. They bought 60 percent of the tickets for “Furious 7,” the latest installment in an action franchise that evolved from a starring vehicle for Paul Walker (a white guy) to an intentionally diverse ensemble. And African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and other nonwhite moviegoers bought 51 percent of the tickets to “Jurassic World.”
Women, despite buying half of movie tickets, played a smaller role in driving blockbusters; the only movie where a majority of attendees were women was “Inside Out,” Pixar’s movie about the inner life of a girl named Riley after her family movies to San Francisco.
These numbers, as they so often do, present mixed evidence for diversity advocates who argue that telling more stories about women and people of color is just good business and will bring new audiences to franchises that have typically attracted white, male moviegoers.
“Furious 7” suggests that minority moviegoers can power a franchise. But focusing on black and female main characters didn’t exactly cause a demographic upset for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”: Fifty-eight percent of that movie’s audience was male, and 61 percent of ticket buyers were white, marking the highest percentage among the top five grossing movies of 2015. And adding the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and a bumped-up role for Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) didn’t bring women to “Avengers: Age of Ultron” in disproportionate numbers; they bought 42 percent of tickets to that movie, despite buying 50 percent of movie tickets overall.
If nothing else, the Theatrical Market Statistics report is a valuable reminder of just how big the movie industry is. If advocates want to make a business case as well as a moral one for changing the movie business, they’ll have to argue for an impact that can be measured in the billions.