How many people work on a Hollywood film?

I watched a movie the other day and when ‘The End’ text appeared a really catchy song started. So I listened to the song and began watching the credits. It seemed to never end, credit after credit with name after name. A question arose in my head; how many people are in a crew for a Hollywood film?

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By Stephen Follows

Last week I ran a course in Malaysia for the Met Film School and the Malaysian Government. Malaysia is set to be a popular destination for Hollywood projects, thanks mostly to the 30% tax break and the brand new Pinewood Studio complex. The studio is not officially open yet but already ‘Marco Polo’ has set up shop and is hiring. The Malaysian government is funding courses to prepare locals for work on huge Hollywood productions and my course last week was for would-be Production Assistants.

In order to give the students a sense of the scale of these productions I asked them to guess how many people worked on the movie ‘Avatar’. Guesses ranged from a few hundred up to a thousand. The actual figure (according to IMDb) is 2,984.

This got me thinking about what the number of crew members could tell us about a production. There are few caveats to this approach which I’ve laid out at the bottom of this article, but nonetheless it’s quite a revealing process. I took the 50 highest grossing films of each of the past 20 years (giving me 1,000 films to study) and looked at the number of people credited on IMDb. In summary…

  • Iron Man 3 credits 3,310 crew members
  • The average number of crew credits in the top 1,000 films between 1994 and 2013 was 588.
  • Over half of the top films had under 500 people in their crew
  • On average the top films of the past two decades have each had 3.5 writers, 7 producers, 55 people in the art department, 32 in sound, 55 in camera / electrical and 156 in visual effects.
  • The Butler had 39 producers – 5 producers, 17 executive producers, 6 co-executive producers, 4 co-producers and 7 associate producers
  • A third of the workers on Love Actually were in the art department
  • Crew credits suggest that Peter Jackson favours special effects over visual effects more than the industry average.
  • Now You See Me has six times the average number of people in the camera department
  • 23% of the people who worked on ‘Pokemon: The First Movie’ were in the music department

The largest crew on a Hollywood film

The biggest crews are rather staggering, with 3,310 people receiving a credit on Iron Man 3.

FILMS WITH LARGEST CREWS (1994-2013)
Iron Man 3 3,310
Avatar 2,984
Marvel’s The Avengers 2,718
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 2,709
Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 2,622
Man of Steel 2,543
Captain America: The First Avenger 2,536
Thor 2,384
Transformers: Dark of the Moon 2,376
His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass 2,235

Overall, the average number of crew credits was 588, with the top 25% of films accounting for half of all credits. Out of my list of 1,000 films…

  • Only 1 film had over 3,000 credits
  • 13 films credited between 2,000 – 2,999 people
  • 133 films credited between 1,000 – 1,999 people
  • 287 films credited between 500 – 999 people
  • 566 films credited under 500 people

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Visual Effects

Avatar just pips Iron Man 3 to the Oscar for ‘Most People Credited in the Visual Effects Department’. Interestingly, The Golden Compass is the only Hollywood film in the top 20 of this visual effect chart which was not released in 3D.

FILMS WITH LARGEST VISUAL EFFECTS DEPARTMENT (1994-2013)
Avatar 1,844
Iron Man 3 1,834
Marvel’s The Avengers 1,514
Man of Steel 1,445
The Golden Compass 1,252

For 57 of my 1,000 films, the Visual Effects Department made up over 50% of all crew members. If you meet someone in a pub who says they worked on Harry Potter there is a 62% chance they worked in visual effects. Similar numbers are true for Gravity, Pacific Rim, Avatar and Total Recall. In fact, the VFX department of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II made up a larger percentage of the total crew than Avatar (62.0% versus 61.8%). This is surprising as Harry Potter appears to be an almost exclusively live action film whereas Avatar is largely CGI animation.

Special Effects

Special effects include on-set physical, mechanical and in-camera effects and should not be confused with digital / visual effects. Hollywood films by Peter Jackson take up four out of the top five places, revealing his love of real-world, on set trickery.

FILMS WITH LARGEST SPECIAL EFFECTS DEPARTMENTS (1994-2013)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 225
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring 217
Avatar 212
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 211
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 195

Stunts

The number of stunt performers involved with the most recent Batman film is rather impressive, due in part to the huge street battles.

FILMS WITH LARGEST STUNT DEPARTMENTS (1994-2013)
The Dark Knight Rises 258
The Green Hornet 223
The Bourne Ultimatum 188
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 177
The Lone Ranger 175

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