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  • Alina Goh

Hollywood Films VS European Films


What comes to mind when you see this word? For me, it’s the glamour and drama of stardom, and the action-packed blockbusters. But is that all there is to it? Even though the term “Hollywood” used to refer to films made in the suburb of Hollywood in the early days of the film industry, it now tends to be synonymous with films produced in America as a whole. Hollywood has gone global as it made its way into foreign markets outside of America. Their films often have a wide reach because they’re catered for the masses. How this is possible even though individual preferences vary is because Hollywood blockbusters use a consistent set of aesthetic and stylistic conventions that audiences readily understand.

It is different from European cinema

that primarily encompasses films from France, Germany and Italy. (Note that this list is not exclusive.) European cinema tends to be artistic in nature and examples include Nosferatu (1922), The 400 Blows (1959), and Wild Strawberries (1957). Chances are, you might not have even heard of some of these films as they’re not made to wow the audience. They’re not catered for the masses. European films are ambiguous, often with open-ended plots that provoke audiences to think deeper. It’s sort of an acquired taste. It did take me a while to see the appeal of European art films because I was so used to Hollywood films and the two are rather different.

There are a couple of differences:

1. Narrative

Hollywood films tend to have a coherent causal-effect flow of storytelling composed by a string of events. There must be causality between the act before and the act that follows. There is usually a goal for the protagonist to achieve and the audience is meant to get absorbed into the story of the film, experiencing it from the perspective of the protagonist.

European cinema on the other hand do not adhere to the straight classical mode of storytelling. It doesn’t always follow the 3-act structure. It confronts classical ideas about narrative. European cinema is often suggestive, evocative, and nonlinear. What I mean by this is that the film leaves you with a lot of food for thought. It might not be clear who the villain and hero is, and the events that unfold on screen might not be in chronological order either. It is how European cinema distinguishes themselves from the mass cinema and build the reputation of those involved in film production that they are people not afraid of demanding and difficult films.

2. Cast

The actors seen on screen in Hollywood film are often familiar faces, well, the successful ones are, and this is because there are many people who will watch a film just to see their favourite actor. Think about it. How many films would you have skipped if not for Tom Cruise, Angeline Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio, etc etc? I think it’s a pretty good strategy since Hollywood targets the global audience and celebrities can be “marketed” to expand the reach of Hollywood films. Any publicity is good publicity, right?

While it may not be a rule to cast nonprofessional actors in European films, many filmmakers in Europe have embraced it. European cinema does not always cast stars or professional actors because it tends to provide a more legitimate claim to authenticity, to substantiate the claim that the filmmaker doesn’t want the audience to be distracted by the glamour of familiar faces and actors. This is another point of distinction from the values of Hollywood and other mainstream national cinema.

3. Content

Hollywood targeting the masses mean that the films made have to be clear. The audience should not be confused about the setting, time, events, or character motivations. Content-wise, it ought to be somewhat conservative and in line with norms or expectations in order for the masses to accept and buy the story of the film. Even with mind-blowing plot twists, most Hollywood films eventually tie up all loose ends and answer the questions viewers might have by the end of the film.

European films usually represent some aspect of “truth”. They are complex and often times the message isn’t clear, which I personally think is metaphorical of reality itself. The films are created with a certain vision in mind and the content itself could be radical because of that.


I guess this is the part where I drop some recommendations of European films (I think Hollywood films are well-known enough and don’t need the recommendations) but honestly I haven’t watched many European films either. Still, Waltz with Bashir (2008) is a personal favourite for many reasons.

One, it’s an animated documentary. That alone speaks for how unique it is, at least to me because I never knew such a genre even existed. It even sounds contradictory since animations are associated with fiction but documentaries aren’t.

Two, the narrative structure. The timeline switches between the happenings of war in the 1980s and the protagonist’s confrontation of his memory loss in 2006. We also get a glimpse into the perspective of multiple characters, not just the protagonist’s - something uncharacteristic of Hollywood.

Three, the content. Well, it’s about war. More specifically, it’s about a former soldier trying to recall his memories about his involvement in the Lebanon War. It was confusing for me as someone who didn’t really know the context and was hard for me to keep up at times when the locations kept changing. I enjoyed it regardless but it might not be your cup of tea. Again, because it is not catered for the masses.


Hopefully this got you interested in finding out more about European films! Oh, but if you do want some recommendations for Hollywood films, some classics are The Godfather (1972), Singin’ In The Rain (1952) and Casablanca (1942).

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