As shown in my post on cinema-going in wartime despite the potential threat to life and limb people needed to occupy themselves and people flocked to the cinema. According to Kinematograph Weekly’s annual round ups (Table 1) the most popular films at the British box office were often melodramas and part of the counter-narrative. Few of the critically acclaimed films such as Millions Like Us appear in the listing with only This Happy Breed featuring.
Although it doesn’t appear on the Kinematograph Weekly’s list, the most popular film released in the UK during World War Two was Gone with the Wind which showed continuously between April 1940 and D-Day. It remains the most successful film of all time at the British Box Office (BFI 2004). The Wicked Lady is often considered a wartime film despite featuring in the list in 1946. It was produced during the war and was the most successful of the Gainsborough melodramas.
|Year||Biggest Winner(s)||Best British film|
|1941||49th Parallel||49th Parallel|
|1942||Mrs Miniver||The First if the Few|
|1943||In Which We Serve,Casablanca, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Hello Frisco Hello, The Black Swan, The Man in Grey||In Which We Serve|
|1944||For Whom the Bell Tolls, This Happy Breed, Song of Bernadette, Going My Way, This Is the Army, Jane Eyre, The Story of Dr. Wassell, Cover Girl, White Cliffs of Dover, Sweet Rosie O’Grady, The Sullivans, Fanny by Gaslight||This Happy Breed|
|1945||The Seventh Veil||The Seventh Veil|
|1946||The Wicked Lady||The Wicked Lady|
Table 1: British Box Office Information, 1940 – 1950 (Lant 1991, 231-233)
It is clear a large number of the most popular films were American and the idea that American films could be the films consumed in Britain was something to be feared during the pre-war years
Of all people they [Americans] are closest to ourselves in mind and spirit. But to allow these cousins of ours to put a stranglehold on this fundamental power of national expression, which is the British cinema, is carrying blood-relationship a trifle too far.
Editorial essay 1937
The reasons for the appeal of American films included in large part the perceived glamour. Something that the films produced by Gainsborough Pictures began to address. They signified an increase in escapism. The importance of glamour in British wartime cinema will be explored in later posts.
 This is in terms of tickets sold.
 Due to the lack of British Cinema statistics this table is taken from Kinematograph Weekly’s annual survey, compiled by R.H. “Josh” Billings and collated in Antonia Lant’s Book Blackout
BFI. 2004. The Ultimate Film, 4/9/2006 2004 [cited 03/07/2010 ]. Available from http://www.bfi.org.uk/features/ultimatefilm/.
Editorial essay. 1937. World Film News (No. 8):5.
Lant, Antonia. 1991. Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.