IRELAND AT THE OSCARS. Does Ireland’s investment in film pay off?

DH6010 Humanities and New Technologies: Tools and Methodologies

Curated Digital Narrative 


Lucia Brunetti

Aisling Christie

Julie Dalton

Paul Maher


Does Ireland’s investment in film pay off?


 The Irish and Oscar

The Academy Awards capture the public’s interest year after year with the glittering award show featuring tonnes of celebrities all on their best behaviour. Winning or even being nominated is an honour that generally goes to American films, as only 20% of Best Picture winners have been non-American films. So when Ireland gets some recognition, it’s always exciting for Irish film fans and the Irish press, and of course, Ireland Inc.

The Best Picture contenders usually get an Irish release in the winter months prior to the February ceremony, a rich time to be a cinema-goer. The Oscars are a benchmark for filmmaking, despite its bias towards English language productions and the Academy voters’ nervousness around anything different. Biopics and epic dramas usually fare best. Musicals, horrors and popular summer blockbusters – make that anything ‘genre’ – rarely win in the big categories, that is, Best Picture, Best Director or Best Actor/Actress in a leading or supporting role.

In compiling the data for this chart, we realised it’s almost impossible to be objective about someone’s Irishness. We claim the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis because his father was born in Ireland, he holds dual citizenship and resides in Wicklow. But can we claim him when he wins an Academy Award for his portrayal of Lincoln, a film that has no connection to Ireland? Probably not, but we’ll try anyway.

Irishness comes in many forms. Irish parent? Dual citizenship? Big fan of Connemara like Peter O’Toole? Emigrated with parents at age two? It’s a state of mind, not a legal claim. Brenda Fricker: “When you are lying drunk at the airport you’re Irish. When you win an Oscar you’re British.”

We can get even more regionalistic about Irish actors: see the Rubberbandits on ‘Limerick’s own’ Ruth Negga. And what about Michael Fassbender? Is he German or Irish – or even more important in some places – a Kerryman or not? Why not both?

In researching the Irish people involved in Hollywood, some lesser-known but interesting characters crop up. Cedric Gibbons is an outlier on our graph, as the studio was contractually obliged to credit him as Art Director in each film that MGM made until his retirement 1956. He won a total of 11 Oscars, with 38 nominations. He is credited on about 1500 films, but his actual hands-on art direction may have been about 150 films (still a high number). He designed the Oscar statuette and was one of the founding members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

An Irishman held the honour of receiving both a Nobel prize for literature and an Academy Award, up until 2016, when Bob Dylan caught up with George Bernard Shaw.

Film in Ireland

Many film and animation studios in Ireland have come and gone over the years. Is this an indicator that Ireland’s film industry cannot stand on its own two feet? Does the industry need consistent government-backed policies of investment and support to survive? We wanted to chart the performance of Irish films which got the AMPAS voters’ attention against the public funding of the Irish film sector and commercial incentives provided for investment by the Irish Government such as Section 481. Questions we also asked were does this investment provide growth for the industry in Ireland, and does this have any impact on the future commercial viability of the future of film production here? We also examined current gender balance within the industry, asking how well represented are women in the film industry in Ireland.

From 2008 to 2016, Irish government investment in film has fallen, due to the economic recession and the austerity measures being brought in in 2008. In the period 2009 – 2016, Irish talent took home four Oscars. In the previous 8 years 2000 – 2008, we won five (these wins include honorary Oscars for Maureen O’Hara and Peter O’Toole). And we can possibly take away the Daniel Day-Lewis wins as neither of those films (There Will Be blood, Lincoln) were Irish produced/funded.

1 – Source: IFB Annual Snapshot 2016

However, we did receive a lot more nominations in the period 2009 – 2016, 20 nominations despite the recession, compared with just nine nominations in the period 2000-2008. This can be read as a sign that our film industry has stabilised and matured.

Does funding lead to international success? We look to the primary fund-awarding body in the country – the Irish Film Board – for some answers. Their funding is divided into two categories: development and production. Below, we examined data from the Irish Film Board’s 2016 Annual Report.

2 – Source: IFB Annual Snapshot 2016

The success rate of acquiring funding is measured by the ‘strike rate’ i.e. the number of projects applying for funding compared to those that received the funding. On average, applications to the Irish Film Board for development funding have a strike rate of 31%. Production funding strike rates are higher than the figures for development funding, likely due to lower numbers applying for production funding because of limited matching resources or perhaps the project has stalled.

3 – Source: IFB Annual Snapshot 2016

It is likely due to their limited resources that the IFB is cautious when awarding funds. Development projects which are beyond the first draft stage are more likely to get funding. Interestingly, documentaries in development did not receive funding 66% of the time whereas every animation production that applied to IFB received funding. Animation projects are most likely to get funding, probably due to a sustained growth in the popularity of Irish animated television series and films, and the reliability of already established animation studios in Ireland since 1999.


4 – Source: Irish Nominations and Wins at the Oscars

Short Films

One thing that can be noticed from the chart is the increase in the last years of nominations in the Short Film category (with also a few winnings). Shorts are usually produced by emerging directors who want to gain some experience and create a portfolio before directing a feature film; could this be a sign of a new generation of talented directors entering the Irish film industry? However, this success in the Oscars for Irish short films did not bring about an increase in the funding by the IFB for this category; as the chart below shows the number of shorts funded in 2014 was only none against the 28 funded in 2011. This downward trend seems to reverse in 2015 with an increase in the number of funded projects (17). We can only hope that the number of short film project funded continues to increase in the future, especially as short films do not have screening revenues, relying heavily on public funding.

5 – Source: IFB Five Year Strategy

Gender and Film in Ireland

Source: Arts of Council of Ireland

The gender breakdown is interesting: female writers who applied for funding under the Irish Production Funding received it 75% of the time. The percentage of female writers is only 24% so this shows the IFB is encouraging female writers to apply for funding in Irish productions. In the category of Project Development Funding, the strike rate for female applicants was lower, suggesting that there is a smaller success rate for productions not concretely connected to Ireland. IFB’s vision for 2020 enshrines the concept of gender and diversity being promoted through its funding.


6 – Source: IFB Annual Snapshot 2016


The future of Irish Film

Below is a chart of the 2015 Oscar nominated movies with before nomination gross revenue and post nomination gross revenue. It has two movies of Irish interest, Brooklyn and Room, both of which had an exponential rise in finances post nomination. While we have no proof that the nomination affected sales of tickets for the movies, we do know that an Oscar nomination increases a film’s popularity. It also increases the amount of countries that it is released in. ‘Irish film and screen content has achieved phenomenal worldwide success, but what comes next?’ (IFB, 2016). A call to ‘seize the day’ has been issued by the IFB for those in the film industry to take maximum advantage of our successes over the last few years. The IFB sees this as a result of the long-term strategy of investment, highlighting our favourable tax incentives. The IFB believes this success is scalable and it wishes to bring Ireland to the next level in the art of filmmaking for the world stage.

7 – Sources: Box Office Mojo and

In the period 2015/2016 Irish Films grossed over $140 million at the international box office. The IFB’s vision for 2020 promotes a five year strategy which includes vision, leadership, audience building, development, nurturing, increased investment and developing partnerships, as was done with Telefilm Canada and IFB in the award-winning Room. This North American connection could be a conduit to the huge US market in a practical and logistical way, using Irish and Canadian teams to co-produce material of mutual cultural interest. This graphic shows our place on the world map.

8 – Source: Club Troppo

Ireland’s market share did not register as of 2009, and this reiterates what we already know: our population base cannot support an indigenous industry. We have to sell our films abroad for it to make economic sense. Competing in international awards allows this to happen.

We conclude that the data suggests that international recognition leads to a significant increase in a film’s financial success. Oscar nominations impact on the popularity and earnings of Irish films, despite no wins in the biggest categories in more than 25 years. The post gross figures represent worldwide financial returns, further emphasising our belief that a worldwide distribution deal on foot of an Oscar nomination drives ticket sales in all countries where the film appears.

We submit that the dataset we have provided makes a definite connection of cause and effect between the Irish Exchequer investment and tax incentives and success for Irish films on the world stage. It is, however, a long-term strategy; the fruits of which are not immediately apparent at time of investment. As the decision to fund the IFB is a political one, we feel that it should be put on a firmer footing, with long-term funding protected against future political interference. Let us hope the Irish film industry has learned from previous mistakes, as seen in the 1990s when the potential of Irish film was on the runway to success; success which never materialised. Reports at the time cited ‘misuse of tax investors’ funds almost destroyed investment in the area’ (Irish Independent, 2001). We remain cautiously optimistic for the continued success of Irish film.






1-3: Irish Film Board’s Annual Snapshot 2016. (accessed 14/03/2017).


4: Irish Nominations and Wins at the Oscars


5-6: Irish Film Board’s Five Year Strategy


7: Box Office Mojo (accessed 11/03/2017).


The Numbers (accessed 11/03/2017).


8: Club Troppo, ‘How nationalistic/cosmopolitan or just crud loving are global audiences: how large are their film industries?’ (accessed 11/03/2016)


‘Irish Film Flops Into Another Crisis’ (accessed 15/03/2017).


Image sources

Image sources

  1. Header image:
  2. Ruth Negga
  3. Brenda Fricker and Daniel Day-Lewis
  4. Arts Council