The international appeal of Hollywood films through the twentieth century has been a subject of interest to economic and film historians alike. This paper employs some of the methods of the economic historian to evaluate key arguments within the film history literature explaining the global success of American films. Through careful analysis of both existing and newly constructed datasets, the paper examines the extent to which Hollywood’s foreign earnings were affected by: film production costs; the extent of global distribution networks, and also the international orientation of the films themselves. The paper finds that these factors influenced foreign earnings in quite distinct ways, and that their relative importance changed over time. The evidence presented here suggests a degree of interaction between the production and distribution arms of the major US film companies in their pursuit of foreign markets that would benefit from further archival-based investigation.