The real reason why Europeans think American film is a joke

Is American film really that bad?

According to many Europeans, especially those in Spain, Germany, and among certain crowds in England, the answer is yes. Do all Europeans think this? Of course not, but many European film-goers find American films to a bit crap.

Why do they think this?

Mainly, for three reasons:

  1. Europeans and Americans see films for different reasons.
  2. When Americans and Europeans think of film, they’re each thinking about different parts of the spectrum.
  3. Cultural speaking, Europeans and Americans have very different ideas about the movie business.

Why go see a film?

Most Americans see film as a form of relaxing entertainment. Going to the movies offers an opportunity to give your brain a two-hour break as you watch beautiful people run around, defeat the bad guys and save the world. They allow you to laugh a bit when the couple somehow manages to get it together at the end of a rom-com. Flicks are a great way to decompress after 50 hours of a 40 hour work week filled with traffic jams and hunting for a parking-place.

To some French, Germans, and Brits, all this feels like a waste of time. They get tired of films that they feel lack anything to think about or figure out. They feel that there are too many movies where everyone’s hair and teeth and make-up are a little too perfect, the villain always has a foreign accent and the hero always defeats them at the last minute. This feels so overdone that they find it boring.

By the time the American flag is shown somewhere near the final shot of the film, many Europeans just can’t take it anymore.

How is film seen differently by Americans and Europeans?

Very differently. Back in the days of bookshelves filled with DVDs, I had an argument with a Spanish cinefile whose position was that American cinema was “horrible”. Seventy-five percent of his 500+ DVD case was filled by all the usual suspects: The Godfather, Blade-Runner, The Big Lebowski, Fight Club, the actual film, The Usual Suspects!, etc. When I pointed this out, his retort was that these hundreds of films were exceptions.

What this reveals is that Europeans aren’t saying that Americans don’t make good films. They’re just irritated that the US gets away with making so many bad films, formulaic films, remakes and reboots. Whereas Americans tend to think of the dozens of films they like and forget about the rest, Europeans see good American films as exceptions to a rule. Interesting.

How do views of the movie business differ?

The American movie business is a different animal. Compared to what? Compared to anything! When the serious film-goer from Europe criticizes American films as being
silly, they are neglecting or possibly belly-aching about the fact that major decision makers have made a choice. They don’t want to produce the cinema equivalent of a fancy restaurant. They want the cinema equivalent of McDonalds because serving fast food cinema to more customers, more often is more profitable than occasionally selling gourmet cinema to a few.

After all, why make an original film when you can roll out a Marvel film with an already tested story, then sell all of the following?:

  • t-shirts
  • toys
  • paraphernalia
  • PC, console and online games
  • in-game purchases
  • cosplay and Halloween costumes
  • etc.

With this kind of selling power, it can be difficult for a decent, or even good 87 minute film with good acting, a solid plot and decent cinematography to compete, if that’s all it has to offer.

Ultimately, this is why many Europeans are so hard on American film. The gripe is legitimate but context is a powerful thing. For many, the context is a film’s earning potential which basically makes a movie like The Fast and the Furious better than anything that has ever won an Oscar, really.

It could be that the new context for American film as art will be something like coffee-house cinema, film festivals or something that moves away from the multiplex model. We’ll see and hopefully soon.

So, what do you think? Are American films that bad? Do people expect too much? Let us know in the Comments.



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