If there has ever been a time for locally sourced product to succeed, apparently it is now.
Looking at this week’s box-office charts from major territories, it’s clear that, while Hollywood blockbusters will always have their chunk of each market, local audiences are embracing homegrown pictures with increasing enthusiasm.
“A night out for Italians at Baaria or for Germans at Vicky The Viking could act as a rebellion against the advertising imperialism of US entertainment”
Agora is top in Spain for the third week, Pope Joan topped the charts in Germany, Le Petit Nicolas remained number one in France, Good Morning President was South Korea’s movie of choice, I Give My First Love To You led in Japan, and Knerten and The Girl Who Played With Fire looked strong in Scandinavia.
A knockout opening for The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus in Italy and the continued success of the Stieg Larsson movies throughout Europe also suggest European territories are becoming a tad more inclusive of their neighbours’ films.
Few who witnessed the lacklustre responses to Agora and Doctor Parnassus at Cannes would have expected them to find such large audiences. The Spanish success of Agora ($22m and counting) has provoked other buyers to reconsider the film. Yes, Spaniards are loyal to their celebrated directors such as Amenabar, but the film is proving a crowd-pleaser beyond mere loyalty.
The local phenomenon could be attributed to a retreat to homegrown stories after the global exposure allowed by the internet. Surf the web and there are no territorial boundaries to your wanderings. Web-savvy audiences may be looking to entrench themselves in their own cultures after spending so much mental time away from home.
Perhaps audiences are also tiring of omnipresent marketing from Hollywood movies. A night out for Italians at Baaria or for Germans at Vicky The Viking could act as a rebellion against the advertising imperialism of US entertainment which has surely reached saturation. There has to be a point where too much marketing hype can turn audiences to a different flavour of film.
Or maybe Hollywood movies are starting to fulfil a different function. Event movies will always dominate, but second-tier studio films are finding it more difficult to make an impression outside the US, and many titles are not worth the effort in distributing to more than 100 countries. That leaves a big gap for local-language films.
Of course, studios have been playing the local game for years, ever since they started to witness shrinking market share for their product. Most have local-language production divisions and, with huge distribution infrastructures to feed and diminishing product lines from their parent companies, they’re all in the business of smart acquisitions. Agora, after all, is being distributed by Fox in Spain.
Just last week, Paramount Pictures International struck a deal with Momentum to handle six of its US titles in the UK, and also picked up British comedy My Last Five Girlfriends.
For all studio infrastructures, it’s often more effective to feed the pipeline on a local level rather than automatically force-feed second-rate US comedies or failed horror movies onto indifferent global audiences.
Tellingly, most of the big local hits in theatres at the moment are also independently distributed, with the exception of Agora. Wild Bunch has Le Petit Nicolas, Constantin has Vicky The Viking and Pope Joan, and in Korea and Japan the US studios are routinely marginalised by the local companies these days.
Perhaps it’s more difficult than studios thought to capture the imagination of audiences with local films. Maybe that skill will remain the domain of the local companies.