Programming Foreign Films: Analysing Cultural Diversity in the Global Exhibition Sector

Mar 2, 2021
Audiences Beyond the Multiplex: Understanding the Value of a Diverse Film Culture, Art and Humanities Research Council, UK


This paper is concerned with the levels of cultural diversity across the global film exhibition sector in the digital age. We examine theatrical film screening data across 40 countries during 2013–2015 to evaluate the cultural diversity of each country’s cinema programming and the extent of access to culturally diverse content offered to audiences via the country’s exhibition sector.

The cultural diversity of the international cinema market has been a focus of academic attention (e.g., Masood, 2019; Moreau & Peltier, 2004; UNESCO, 2016). Most scholars have relied on the number of imported films to determine the level of cultural diversity within a country. However, in their analysis focusing on Australia, Coate et al. (2017) also evaluated the level of access to screenings of foreign films provided by the country’s exhibition sector and showed that cultural diversity can be overestimated when only the number of imported films is taken into account as foreign, non-US productions tend to receive little theatrical exposure to audiences.

This paper extends the analysis by Coate et al. (2017) beyond the Australian context. We adopt the authors’ operationalisation of Napoli’s (1999; 2011) definitions of “source” and “exposure” diversity to compare diversity “supplied” and “consumed” (Moreau & Peltier, 2004) across 40 cinema markets. The source (or supplied) diversity in each country is considered as the number of films imported from different origins, while the share of the country’s theatrical screenings dedicated to those films constitutes exposure (or consumed) diversity.

Our discussion is informed by the big data collection of global film screenings from the Kinomatics Project (n.d.), enriched with data on 124 film origins from IMDb (n.d.). The sample lists over 130m screening records of 3,424 first-run feature films released commercially across 40 countries during 2013–2015, amounting to over 28k film-country observations.


Coate, B., Verhoeven, D., Arrowsmith, C., & Zemaityte, V. (2017). Feature film diversity on Australian cinema screens: Implications for cultural diversity studies using big data. In M. D. Ryan & B. Goldsmith (Eds.), Australian Screen in the 2000s (pp. 341–360). Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Internet Movie Database (IMDb). (n.d.).

Kinomatics Project. (n.d.). What is Kinomatics.

Masood, M. (2019). New evidence on income and the geographical distribution of imports: The case of audiovisuals. Journal of Comparative Economics, 47(3), 717–734.

Moreau, F., & Peltier, S. (2004). Cultural diversity in the movie industry: A cross-national study. Journal of Media Economics, 17(2), 123–143.

Napoli, P. M. (1999). Deconstructing the diversity principle. Journal of Communication, 49(4), 7−34.

Napoli, P. M. (2011). Exposure diversity reconsidered. Journal of Information Policy, 1, 246−259.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2016). Diversity and the film industry: An analysis of the 2014 UIS Survey on Feature Film Statistics.