November 23, 2006

Open Studies in European Cinema. Nazi Box Office Figures

Nazi Period Facts and Figures

Table 1

Year< > Number of Cinemas< >Number of admissions (millions)
1933…................ 5,071…................................245
1934…................ 4,889…................................259
1935…................ 4,782…................................303
*1936…...............5,259…................................362
1937….................5,302…................................396
1938….................5,446…................................442
*1939…...............6,923…................................624
1940….................7,018…................................834
1941….................7,043…................................892
1942….................7.042…..............................1,062
1943….................6,561…..............................1.,116
1944 …................6,484…..............................1,101

Table derived from Rentchsler, 1996 p 13. Originally sourced from Prinzler, Chronik des deutschen Films 1895-1994. Stuttgart, 1995.

On these figures it can be seen that during the first two years of Nazi rule the number of screens was reduced in the first year at the rate of nearly one per day and during the second year by approximately one every three days. At the same time that there were closures the numbers of cinema-goers rose steadily every year peaking in 1943. In 1943 the peak of audiences was accompanied by the first contraction in the number of cinemas since 1936 and falling to fewer cinemas than in 1939. This trend can clearly be put down to wartime conditions changing dramatically with RAF air raids beginning to make a real impact on cities from early in 1943.

Table 2: German box-office statistics, 1929-1939

Year< >Number of Tickets sold < >Gross Income (million RM)
1929….....................328…....................................273
1930….....................290…....................................244
1931….....................273…....................................197
1932….....................238…....................................176
1933….....................245…....................................117
1934….....................259…....................................195
1935….....................304*.....................................231
1936….....................362…....................................282
1937….....................396…....................................309
1938….....................430*.....................................335
1939….....................624…....................................411

Table derived from Rentschler, 1996 p105. Originally sourced from Traub ed. Die Ufa. Ein Beitrag zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des deutschen ilmschaffens. Berlin: Ufa-Buchverlag, p 156.

Numbers with a * against them denote a discrepancy with table 1. This amounts to a difference of 12 million tickets sold in 1938.

Table 3: Foreign feature films exhibited in the Third Reich

Year/All features/German features/% of all features /Total US/ Total foreign
1933…206….......114…............................55.3….............64….....92
1934…210….......129…............................61.4….............41….....81
1935…188….........92…............................48.9….............41….....96
1936…176….......112…............................63.6….............28….....64
1937…172….........94…............................54.7….............39….....78
1938…162….......100…............................61.7….............35….....62
1939…145…........111…...........................76.6….............20….....34
1940…103….........85….............................82…................5…......18
1941…. 81….........67….............................82.7--------—-0….......14
1942…..87….........57….............................65.5--------—-0….......30
1943…101….........78….............................77.2--------—-0….......23
1944…..77….........64….............................83.2--------—-0….......13

Derived from Rentschler, 1996, p106. Sourced from Boguslaw, Drewniak, deutsche Film 1938-1945. Ein Gesamptuberblick. Dusseldorf: Droste, 1987, p 814.

Analysis of the Statistics

In 1933 the numbers of tickets sold were higher than in 1932 by 7 million yet the gross income fell by 59 million Reichmarks. The reason is that possibly prices of cinema tickets are being lowered to keep audience share furthermore more people were being employed by the state on infrastructure projects thus beginning to stimulate the economy.

1934 shows that there were 82 fewer cinemas with 14 million more tickets being sold. This was the first full year the Nazis were in power. During this year more German made features were exhibited than during any other year of the Nazi regime.

The figures for 1934 show a contraction in production of the number of German films with US imports at their highest level during the Nazi period. It would appear that there was a focus upon making better quality productions and fewer films.

It was only in 1936 that box office sales finally increased over the 1929 figures despite the end of 1929 seeing the beginning of the economic depression. Furthermore the box office taking were 280 million RM compared with the 1929 273 million RM. The number of tickets sold were 362 million and 328 million respectively. On theses figures this means that 32 million more tickets were sold in 1936 which netted only another 7 million RM. This clearly indicates that tickets were cheaper in the first few years of the Nazi regime.

The discrepancy between cinema going numbers and income shows that the Nazi regime was not running cinema as a pure business venture as suggested by some commentators. Given that there were many popular entertainment films produced there seems to be a strong element of ‘bread & circuses’ involved.

We can also see that there was a considerable expansion in the number of cinemas with nearly two hundred more than in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. When we combine the audience figures with the expansion of cinema numbers with the fact that the Nazis paid quite a number of overseas ‘stars’ inflated rates of pay to keep them on board then it is clear that ideological concerns were the main priority for the film industry and entertainment was linked to this.

1939, the year the war started, there were over 1,500 more cinemas than in 1938. The number of admissions went up considerably there is a discrepancy between the figures by 178 million on the lowest estimate however there were only 11 more feature films made than in 1938.

These figures raise a number of questions: Who developed these cinemas? Where were they? Were they in areas that had previously had no local cinema? Does this provide us with an indicator of Nazi preparations for war? Does the start of the war mean that many people flocked to the cinemas to see the newsreels rather than the feature films in order to get news of the opening months of the war? If that is the case how might this information be utilised regarding theories of propaganda?

Throughout the period of the war the average percentage of German feature films being screened was well above 70%.

During the war the statistics show that the number of feature films being made in Germany dropped considerably. At the same time there were more foreign features being shown in Germany. We don’t know from the statistics where these were made. Some were certainly from Continental films the German controlled film production company based in Paris. Quite possibly some were from Vichy France.


- 5 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Max Hammond

    This may well be a naïve question, but did KdF have any effect on cinema attendance? From what I recall, that programme provided subsidised cinema tickets?

    08 Dec 2006, 21:07

  2. Kraft durch Freude (KdF, literally “strength through joy”) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kraft_durch_Freude
    Strength Through Joy – Wikipedia,

    It’s an excellent question! I wish I had access to some information on this. You’ve obviously come across something. I suspect it is almost certainly the case that they gave some form of material encouragement to cinema going. However this is a speculative answer without any reasonably hard evidence.

    I think we will have to keep the question going for now. I have just checked through half a dozen books on Nazi cinema and there is no mention of the organisation. This rather points up the fact that researchers haven’t done the work on audiences yet as well as how these kinds of organisations were used to promote film culture.

    If any visitors have any useful references please join in.

    09 Dec 2006, 01:47

  3. Further to your question Max I have discovered an intersting promotional introduction to the following book: Baranowsky, Shelley.2004. Strength Through Joy Cambridge: CUP. you can download the introduction. Interestingly there is no mention of cinema and the book focuses on Tourism but tangentially other activites. It looks an intersting book but doesn’t seem to help us with the issue of cinema.

    09 Dec 2006, 02:55

  4. Max Hammond

    I’ve had an opportunity to have a quick look, and there’s some mention of it in the excellent J. Noakes and G Pridham (eds) (1984) Nazism 1919-1945, A Documentary Reader vol 2: State, Economy and Society 1933-1939 (1st ed), Exeter: Exeter Studies in History, pp. 346-353 (This 1st edition is not indexed, and hence hard to find things in), which gives numbers of:

    Year 1934 1938
    “Film” events 3,372 3,586
    Participants 316,968 857,402

    (Extracted from a larger table with a wide variety of different activities)

    So it looks to be a small number in comparison to the total attendance. Oh Well :-)

    09 Dec 2006, 12:58

  5. Thanks for this Max. I haven’t checked this sourcebook myself however it comes up in a lot of writers’ bibliographies. There is also a sourcebook which has been put together by several people including Anton Kaes who is of course big on German cinema. I can’t remember the title off-hand but I shall try and get to it because I think you have raised an important issue. I am interested in finding out whether there were significant differences in what films were released and promoted where given the big differences between the more cosmopolitan city audiences (less Nazi inclined) and the rural provincial ones which formed the backbone of Nazi support in the early 1930s.

    09 Dec 2006, 16:10


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