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Exemplary Directors, European Imports, and the Changing Valuation of Films in Hollywood, 1961–1980

Erwin Dekker & Julien Gradoz (2022)

Cultural Sociology, Online first

Abstract. This article utilizes a novel empirical strategy, the study of exemplars, to investigate the transformation of quality conventions in the film industry during the 1960s and 1970s. Exemplars are films or directors which are used as a reference point (focal points) in the evaluation of other movies or directors. We use an original dataset of movie reviews to examine the changing quality conventions and demonstrate that during the investigated period, movies are increasingly treated as singular artistic products. This shift, around the rise of auteur theory and New Hollywood, has been analyzed by others but we provide a more fine-grained analysis of the transformation and are able to demonstrate the neglected importance of cultural trade: the import of European films. We provide evidence that these changes lead to a period of increased quality uncertainty, before a new quality regime becomes established. We explore how such qualitative changes in the market could impact industrial organization and product differentiation in the movie industry, and demonstrate how the analysis of such qualitative changes can complement existing quantitative studies of the movie industry and the determinants of film success, both economically and artistically.

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