Research: Opening our Eyes: How film contributes to the culture of the UK (2011)


How and where do the UK public watch films? What sort of films do we watch? What do films do to us? And what is the cultural contribution of individual films? The findings presented here – many expressed in people’s own words – begin to describe the ways in which film helps us understand our society, our history, our place in the world, our humanity and, ultimately, ourselves. This report is a valuable resource for understanding the UK public’s views on the cultural contribution of film. It draws on a UK-wide survey of public attitudes to, and appreciation of, film - both British and international.


  • The home is the most frequent location for film viewing with 86% watching on television at least once a month and 63% watching on DVD or Blu-ray at least once a month. 30% of people watch film in the cinema at least once a month. Online and mobile viewing is currently at 23% once a month.
  • Watching films is one of the UK’s most popular leisure activities. Film has a broader appeal than socialising in pubs and clubs, watching or playing sport, and more than twice as many people are interested in films than religion.
  • Whilst the majority see film as entertainment, 50% of the public recognise its artistic value.
  • Many consider films seen in childhood or young adulthood as influential on their lives.
  • Two-thirds of people responding to the survey had seen films which had given them new insights into other cultures and ways of life. Furthermore, three-quarters of respondents thought that films can be a good way of making people think about difficult or sensitive issues, usually by initially triggering a strong emotional reaction. Mainstream films that prioritise entertainment can have profound effects on people.
  • There is widespread public support for funding for the film industry through organisations such as the National Lottery. People value British film for showing a ‘warts and all’ picture of Britain and its constituent nations. Their impression is that British films tend to be realistic, honest and display a dark, unique sense of humour. Interestingly, big budgets and elaborate special effects can make a films seem less British.
  • Whilst film is seen as having the capacity to make a significant contribution to current debates on national identity (British, English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish identity in particular), the UK public would like to see more British films telling stories situated outside London and the South of England, and more films featuring disabled people.
  • Film is a source of role models, especially for younger people and members of minority ethnic groups. People from minority ethnic groups have above-average involvement and interest in film.
  • The research finds that people are adept at appreciating and analysing issues presented even as subtext of films including racism, colonialism, genocide, the horrors of war, poverty, injustice and environmental destruction. Personal themes and ideals such as self-realisation, survival against the odds, ‘showing humanity’ and overcoming disability and illness are recognised and valued. Finally, the research provides evidence that individuals have had their attitudes, and even long-term behaviour, changed as a result of encountering specific films.

View this research

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