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The Commercial Film Industry: why is Hollywood still

globallydominant?

Can you remember the last Hollywood production you watched? Whether it was one of the latest
blockbusters in the cinema or whether it was viewing a highconcept film at home there is very
littledoubtaboutthefactthatHollywooddominatestheglobalcommercialfilmscreens.Butwhen
wasthelasttimeyousawadomesticfilm,aBritish,FrenchorSpanishfilm?ThetopicofHollywood
and its popularity with a global audience is one that leaves room for a large number of different
pointsofdiscussion,whetheritisthecreativemilieuoftheindustrywithitsfamousactors,directors
andproducers,orwhetheritisthehistoryoffilmitself,suchasthecreationandproductionofit.

Previously having studied Hollywood as a general concept, this review is specifically interested in
examiningreasonsbehindthedominanceofHollywoodfilmsintheglobalcommercialfilmindustry,
afieldthathasbeendiscussedwidelyoverthepastyears.SincethecreationofthefirstHollywood
filmstudioin1911(Dangcil2007).Americanfilmshavestartedtoimpactviewinghabitsofaudiences
allovertheworld.ResearchershaveattemptedtofindreasonsforHollywoodsglobaldominancein
thecommercialfilmindustrybyapproachingthetopicfromavarietyofviewpoints:Whereassome
focus on the economic success of the American film industry and the importance of marketing,
othersconcentrateontheappealofthetypicalHollywoodnarrativesorpointtothestructureofthe
organisationasawhole.InordertounderstandthereasonsbehindHollywoodsglobalsuccess,an
integrativeapproachneedstobetaken,namelyonethatcombineselementsofeconomic,political,
culturalandsocialnature.Bylookingatthemainargumentsandresearchconductedineachofthese
fields as well as examining pleasures that audiences gain from Hollywood film productions, an
overview of the different lines of reasoning and significant studies will be provided and drawn
togetherintheend.

Many researchers acknowledge Hollywoods superior position as a clear dominating power in the
media industry from the early 20s on. Most of them, as will also become clear later, are likely to
agree to the statement that Hollywood early on emerged as a global industry. (De Zoysa &
Newman2002: 189)However, morerecently, somestudies havetaken adifferent stand, opposing
this view and hypothesizing that there was a change in the demand for Hollywood films that only
emergedinthe1980s.(Garncarz2002)Oneoftheadvocatesofthistheory,Garncarz,arguesthatall
theories dealing with Hollywoods superior international role are flawed from the beginning. He
criticises that most research simply assumes that Hollywood has always dominated the world film
marketandreasonsthatthisallegedfactismerelyanunfoundedassumption.(Garncarz2002)Even
thoughbothviewsacknowledgethedominanceofHollywoodproductionstoday,theyhaveopposing
viewsonwhentheindustrystartedtobecomethemajorplayerincommercialfilmaroundtheworld.
Caution is required when assessing Hollywoods degree of impact on global audiences, because it
needstobeacknowledgedthatthelevelofpopularitymightdifferinrelationtotimeandlocationof
agivenaudience.

Discussing the emergence of Hollywood as the global player in film industry, some research has
focusedoneconomicandpoliticalfactorsthathelpedtheAmericanIndustrygrowasquicklyasitdid.
Amongstthem is the fact thatfrom early on, American films wereavailable for export all over the
world.Ithasbeenfoundthatbythelatetwenties,35%ofits[Hollywood]profitsweregenerated
overseas and notably it secured early governmental support, as realization of its importance for
trade and cultural promotion became apparent. (De Zoysa & Newman 2002: 190) Suddenly,
Hollywoodbecameimportanttopoliticians,astheyrealiseditseconomicpotentialandsoonbecame
interested in the promotion of Hollywood outside of the domestic settings. Garncarz reasons that
theconcertedactionoftheUSgovernmentandtheUSfilmindustryguaranteedtheinternational
success of Hollywood films. When examining the relationship between the exporting and the
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importing country, only the large exporting country is credited with playing a significant role; the
smallerimportingcountryisdescribedasnothingbutablackboxoratmostasplayingadefensive
role.(Garncarz2002:3)Incontrasttootherstudiesthatwillbereferredtolater,hisviewhowever
lacksthementionofaudiencepower,whichcanseverelyinfluencethetrendsofthemarket.Wasser
tooassumesthatHollywoodsglobalpopularitywasfacilitatedbythehistoricalemergenceofglobal
financing strategies. (Wasser 1995)He claims that Hollywood aimed most of its economic
consideration at the American middle class, which proved to be a valuable target group. (Wasser
1995) In their economic analysis about Hollywood, Semati and Sotirin take this argument further,
assertingthatthishomogenizingstrategypavedthewayforHollywoodstransnationalism.(Semati
&Sotirin1999)

In their study of Hollywood from a political point of view, De Zoysa and Newman have found that
after World War II, over 50% of the total revenues of the American film industry were generated
overseas,arguingthatthisisthepointwhereHollywoodeffectivelybecameinternationalized.They
see the dubbing of films as one of the main factors that helped the quick growth of foreign
consumption. (De Zoysa & Newman 2002: 190) Other work that considers the period of the 1980s
and 1990s especially sees reasons for the emerging power of Hollywood in its newly adopted
marketing strategies. Tino Balio argues that the growth of the overseas market during the 1980s
resulted from the upgrading of motion picture cinemas, the emancipation of state controlled
broadcasting,thespreadofcableandsatelliteservices,andthepentupdemandforentertainment
ofalltypes.(Balio1998:59)Heconcludesthattwofactorsboostedtheforeignboxoffice:better
cinemasandmoreeffectivemarketing.(Balio1998:60)

In their analysis about the globalisation process of Hollywood, De Zoysa and Newman argue that
there are two main factors that have helped Hollywood to grow into the most influential film
industry in the world today: Firstly the rapid spread of the English language worldwide that aided
filmsbeingwidelyavailableforexportandsecondlytheinternetthatenablesaworldcommunityto
takepartintheexperienceofwatchingafilm.(DeZoysa&Newman2002:189)Onethingallthese
studieshaveincommonisthefactthattheyrecognisethattheprocessofglobalisationhasplayeda
majorroleinboostingHollywoodsprominencearoundtheworld.

AsHollywoodproductionswereperformingexceptionallywellontheforeignmarket,theimportance
of marketing greatly increased from the 1990s on. Relating to this, Kerry Segrave points out:
"Typically a major film opened in foreign countries months after its U.S. release. In the 1990s that
timespanregularlyshortenedtoafewweeks.(...)Asecondreasonwastotakeadvantageofamore
homogenized ad campaign (...). Foreign audiences were plugged into what was hot on American
marquees.(Segrave1997:241). GriffithandTaylor, too,identifythe profitdrivenbusiness behind
film production to play a role in increasing Hollywoods popularity: From being legendary Los
Angelesbased dream factories solely dedicated to the creation of cinema entertainment for the
masses, they have become involved in a vast range of business activities beyond just movies.
(Griffith & Taylor 1996: 645) Research such as this shows that as it became increasingly popular,
Hollywood evolved from a mere creative space into one of the biggest businesses worldwide that
learnedtomakeuseofintensemarketingstrategiesandbusinessopportunities.

Some studies have also taken a different approach by looking not so much at the political and
economic aspects of Hollywoods global dominance but rather focusing on the social and cultural
appealsoftheAmericanfilmindustryandtheirimpactonaudiences.Buscombehasputforwardthe
argumentthatHollywoodfilmsaresopowerfulandpopular(Buscombe1981:150)becausethey
giveaudiencesavividknowledgeofthedynamismandforceofitssociallife,representedinastyle
at once concrete and multifaced. (Buscombe 1981: 150). Something that De Zoysa and Newman
mention in their work is that American film became part of the socialization process from early
childhoodforpeopleallovertheworld,itsstarsandidioms,basicassumptionsandsubtextfamiliar

to all. (De Zoysa & Newman 2002: 189) Many researchers have failed to mention this aspect of
familiarity from an early age on. For example the fact that many children around the world are
exposed to Disney films is likely to create a first connection for them to the Hollywood industry.
ArguablythishypeisabletopersistallaroundtheworldnotonlybecausetheAmericanfilmindustry
putsgreateffortintopromotingitbutalsobecauseaudiencesoverseashavecometoacceptand
enjoyfilmsfromHollywoodasanintegralpartoftheirculture.SematiandSortirindescribethisas
follows: Hollywood becomes ours and the nationalism of cinema collapses into the
transnationalismofHollywood.(Semati&Sotirin1999:180).Especiallyamongyoungaudiences,the
USisoftenperceivedasatrendsetterinfashion,artsandmusicsomethingthatthefilmindustryis
clearly aware of. In relation to this, Kracauer argues that Hollywood's attitude toward the
presentationofanygivenpieceofinformationultimatelydependsonitsestimateofhowthemasses
ofmoviegoersrespondtothespreadofthatinformationthroughfictionfilms.(Kracauer1949:57)

The argument that follows from that, the fact that Hollywood, and any national film industry for
that matter, is both a leader and follower of public opinion (Kracauer 1949: 53) has also been
capturedbyDeZoysaandNewmanwhosaythattheindustryfollowsdemandratherthancreating
it.(DeZoysa&Newman1999:189)NowellSmith,whohasexaminedreasonsforthepopularityof
Hollywood productions in Britain, argues that the cinema has always been international, both
culturally and economically, because the audience has always been very cosmopolitan (Nowell
Smith 1985: 154). At this stage it becomes very obvious that an integrative approach needs to be
taken in order to fully comprehend the popularity of Hollywood film as part of an economic
industryworthmillionscannotbeseparatedfromfilmasamereculturalmediumtoentertain,give
pleasure and in parts educate its audience. The global demand for commercial film productions
needstobetakenintoconsiderationandacknowledgedwhenanalysingtheHollywoodindustry.

The appeal of Hollywood films has also been approached by researchers in face of the variety of
pleasuresthatspectatorsgainfromthese.BordwellandThompsonseeonepleasureinthevalueof
selfsufficiency:asprotagonistsdominateandcontroltheeventsofthefilmbyneedingtoachievea
goal,thecourseofthenarrative'sdevelopmentwillmostlikelyinvolvetheprocessofachievingthat
goal.(Bordwell&Thompson1993:82)AchievingthesetoutgoalmostlyconcludesinaHappyEnd,
arguablyoneofthereasonswhyHollywoodfilmsarelikelytoappealtoaudiencesofallagegroups.
Additionally,theaspectofemotionalizingtheaudienceplaysamajorpartincreatingpleasureforthe
audience,somethingthatHollywoodhasalwaysbeenapioneerin.(Garncarz2002:14)Heidentifies
thatapartfromtheexcitementofseeingstarsperforminfilms,theappealofHollywoodfilmslies
notsolelyinthestorybutintheirspectacularactionandthespecialeffects.(Garncarz2002:15)
In one of his studies, Herbert focuses on the typical narratives provided by Hollywood films and
comparesthemtoBritishdomesticfilms.Accordingtohim,Hollywoodfilmsareenormouslypopular
in Britain because they fill a cultural gap left open by British mass media. Herbert argues that
Hollywood films focus their narrative on classless heroes who have to achieve an individual goal,
whereas British film focus on individualists struggling against the system or authorities. (Herbert
1962)Theformerseemstobemoreappealingtomassaudiences.

WheninvestigatingreasonsforHollywoodspopularityabroad,manyresearcherscometolookatthe
opposition of European and Hollywood cinema. In the available literature, there are contrasting
views about this. Morris puts forward that Hollywoods popularity in a foreign market limits the
popularappealoflocalfilmproductsineconomic,culturalandsocialterms.(Morris1988,citedin
Semati&Sotirin1999:178)KerrySegravearguesalongthesamelinesandidentifiesthefactthat
Hollywood films get far more coverage from the local press than () European product (Segrave
1997: 245) as one of the reasons for the popularity of Hollywood films over domestic ones.
Furthermore, the author argues that by driving the cost of a film higher and higher, Hollywood
madeitimpossibleforanyonetocompeteonthatlevel.(Segrave1997:246)Seenfromthispointof
view,onecouldconcludethatdomesticfilmsdonotstandachanceinthecompetitionforaudience

attention against Hollywood productions given their superiority in available resources. Higson,
however,takesadifferentapproachbyarguingthatHollywoodhasbeenanintegralandnaturalised
part of the national culture, or the popular imagination, of most countries in which cinema is an
established entertainment form. (Higson 1989: 4) He therefore aims at looking at Hollywood
productionsaspartofculturallifeinsteadofcontrastingthemtothepopularityofnationalcinema.

More recent studies and research have looked at Hollywood as an organisational network with
impacting marketing strategies and structures that allow the place to exercise such a widespread
influence.ResearchbyOlsonhassoughttoshowthattheUShasacompetitiveadvantageinfilmand
TV areas mainly because of the extensive number of skilled labour force that is available to film
producersanddistributors.(Olson1999)IntheUS,universitiesandcollegesthroughoutthecountry
turnoutmorethantheneedednumberofqualifiedwriters,producersanddirectors(Olson1999),
thereby increasing the competition on the market and allowing space for only the best to survive.
Feiwel argues along the same lines by saying that Hollywood as a place allows a great variety and
diversity of film production and marketing in a very concentrated space. He reasons that rapid
communication working within a perfectly functioning network of filmmakers, distributors and
creative minds enables to create a milieu that dominates the film scene around the world. (Feiwel
2002)

Inconclusion,itcanbesaidthattheattempttofindreasonsbehindHollywoodsglobaldominancein
thecommercialfilmmarketisstilltakenupbymanyresearchersandstudies.Itisafieldthatallowsa
varietyofdifferentviewstocoexist,becausethereisnotjustonesimpleanswertothequestionasto
why Hollywood productions are so popular amongst audiences around the world. The fact that no
answer to this investigation is ever exclusive makes this a very interesting topic to debate. Most
research has shown to acknowledge the fact that Hollywood is the major global player in the film
industry, providing evaluations of economic, political and cultural nature. Hollywood films have
becomeanintegralpartofeverydaycultureandhavegreatlyimpactedviewinghabitsofaudiences
forthepastdecades.TheplaceofHollywoodseemstobemanythingsatthesametimeacreative
spaceforfilmmakers,producersanddistributors,avaluablesourceforprofit,apoliticalvehicleand
aplacethatisfullofopportunitiesandeconomicpotentialallofthesefactorstogethercreatingan
industrythathasachievedtofascinateandcaptivatemassaudiencesaroundtheworld.

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