Brit flicks: Where you live and what you watch

Are you more likely to rent Trainspotting if you live in Edinburgh? Do coastal towns prefer pirate flicks? To find out if geography determines our taste in films, Tim Walker analyses the choices of over 600,000 British movie lovers

St Albans is a sedate sort of city. Sleepy, wealthy, suburban. There's a superb medieval abbey, which has doubled for Westminster Abbey on film (in the James Bond spoof Johnny English), and a few Roman remnants, which came from the original settlement being the first stop on the road north out of London. But, on the whole, it's run-of-the-mill commuter country.

Perhaps the genteel ambiance of the place has worn off on its population, because this city of 130,000 people – bigger than Cambridge or Carlisle – rents fewer action and adventure DVDs than any other conurbation in the country. They're missing the visceral thrills of Miami Vice, of Mission: Impossible, of Ocean's Eleven, the poor things. Maybe they should stay in more.

Can geography determine our taste in movies? A quirk of the online rental revolution is that next-door's DVDs often drop on to my doormat in error, and I have to rein in my curiosity before putting them through the correct letterbox, unopened. I'm fascinated to know whether I'm watching the same films as my neighbours. Would Bullet Boy have appealed to me if my flat weren't in London's East End? Am I surrounded by aspiring literary types renting Atonement instead of reading the book? Would I have watched London to Brighton if I were from Birmingham? And if I can find out about my fellow E1 neighbours, then why not ask about the whole country? Do they watch Billy Elliot in County Durham and Trainspotting in Edinburgh? Might the citizens of Hull harbour a secret fondness for Merchant Ivory movies? Who watches the porn?

Online film rental companies use databases to better predict their customers' tastes. In the US, the online rental firm Netflix is running a competition to build a film recommendation engine that can improve on its "Cinematch" system, with a $1m prize waiting for the winner. Netflix and its competitors grow their businesses using reams of customer data that, they hope, will continue to help them send the right films to the right film lovers.

If you're anything like me, it's some time since you last walked into a video store. Nowadays, the branches of the big video chains are a threadbare bunch, fading as the internet movie rental habit powers ahead. In the past six years, Blockbuster's New York share price has fallen from $30 to less than $3. And their specialist, independent equivalents are somewhat redundant in the face of the online search function.

So the best people to help satisfy my nosiness are the team at my own DVD subscription service Lovefilm, the UK's biggest online film rental company. It has 600,000 movie lovers on its books who rent more than three million films every month, from a catalogue of more than 65,000 titles. If those guys don't know who's watching what, where, then nobody does.

With Lovefilm's help, we've put together a movie-watching map of Britain. Some of it is surprising (Hull doesn't like Merchant Ivory, but Huddersfield does), some of it is predictable, but all of it is fascinating. London, as you might expect, dominates the market, but delve beyond the capital, and trends emerge. There is a tendency for people to pick films set in their own cities. Outside London, The Full Monty, about unemployed Sheffield steelworkers, is most rented in Sheffield; Hallam Foe, the tale of a troubled teen let loose in Edinburgh, is most rented in Edinburgh; Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is particularly popular with the pirates of Penzance.

Nationwide, we demonstrate better developed critical faculties in our film renting than our cinema-going. Not all of 2007's biggest box office hits feature highly in the past 12 months' rental top 10. Spider-Man 3 and Transformers failed to make much of an impact on the Lovefilm membership. Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix – 2007's top-grossing UK cinema release – is nowhere to be seen, and nor is Shrek the Third.

Perhaps, then, when the children have been put to bed and we're weary of blockbuster spectacle, what we really want to cosy up with is a well-crafted drama – one that everyone who's seen it tells us is worth a watch. Thus the most popular rentals of the past 12 months have been Atonement and The Last King of Scotland, two fantastic British literary adaptations whose popularity spread by word of mouth. Hot on their heels in third and fourth place come The Bourne Ultimatum and Hot Fuzz.

Statistics differ between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Die Hard 4.0 was big everywhere, but was the third most rented DVD of the year in Wales, one place behind Bourne Ultimatum. The Welsh, unlike St Albans residents, like action.

Turning to the statistics for the past three months alone, we see that the winner of this year's Oscar for Best Picture, the Coen brothers' No Country For Old Men, has been beaten in the rental stakes by St Trinian's in every country but Scotland. Scottish cities, it turns out, are especially keen on watching Oscar winners.

As for all my neighbours in E1, their tastes are straight from the coffee table: over the past 12 months, the top five rented films in the area are The Last King of Scotland, Atonement, Blood Diamond, The Lives of Others and Babel. It's all a bit earnest, isn't it? Five dramas, two and a half of them set in Africa, one of them scripted in German, two of them adapted from literary novels. No comedy, only a smattering of action, and a lot of furrowed brows and stroked chins. I suppose I should've expected as much.

A tale of two towns

You'd think bookish Oxford and brash Blackpool couldn't be more different. Yet they are both cities of around 140,000 people, with large tourist populations and, indeed, a substantial crossover in their film tastes. Among their top 10 rentals of the past 12 months, both cities picked Blood Diamond, The Bourne Ultimatum, Hot Fuzz, and The Pursuit of Happyness. After that, however, their tastes diverge.

Oxford is big on literary adaptations: Atonement, The Last King of Scotland, and Notes on a Scandal. Oxford, along with Bath, Edinburgh and London, was keen on the Oscar-winning German film, The Lives of Others, the only foreign picture to make it into many such lists. It also picked Babel, the misery-fest by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, and Little Miss Sunshine, which most of the rest of us saw over a year ago. Blackpool, meanwhile, likes thrilling (Die Hard 4.0, 28 Weeks Later) and not-so-thrilling (Next, Spider-Man 3) action spectaculars. At the top of Blackpool's list is the DVD hit Déjà Vu. The Denzel Washington thriller received a mediocre critical rating of 56 per cent from the website Rotten Tomatoes, which analyses the views of reviewers from the US and UK. But renters on the Lovefilm website rate the film at 71 per cent. Perhaps it looks better on the small screen.

Top 10 films rented in Oxford in the past 12 months

1. The Last King of Scotland
2. Atonement
3. The Lives of Others
4. Blood Diamond
5. Hot Fuzz
6. The Bourne Ultimatum
7. Notes on a Scandal
8. Babel9. Little Miss Sunshine
10. The Pursuit of Happyness

Top 10 films rented in Blackpool in the past 12 months

1. Déjà Vu
2. The Bourne Ultimatum
3. Die Hard 4.0
4. Next
5. Knocked Up
6. Hot Fuzz
7. 28 Weeks Later
8. The Pursuit of Happyness
9. Blood Diamond
10. Spider-Man 3



Read more of Tim Walker's LOVEFilm findings on Watch It! , The Independent's film and television blog

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor