After a strong US debut, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is set for its international roll-out. Ian Sandwell assesses the global box-office record of cinema’s most successful director
With more than $8.5bn in the bank from theatrical releases during his career, Steven Spielberg is, without question, cinema’s most commercially successful director. At the time of their release, three of his films - Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park - were the most successful films of all-time.
Spielberg has handled a remarkable range of pictures, from iconic effects-driven blockbusters to more adult-oriented fare - and it is with the latter that the director returns to the international box office at the start of 2013.
A well-received historical biopic of the 16th president of the United States with Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, Lincoln is already proving to be an irresistible package in the US. Recording a strong $85,847 average from its limited 11-print debut on Nov 9 - comparable to that of Oscar winner The King’s Speech, which notched an $88,862 average in 2010 from four prints - Lincoln expanded to 1,775 sites in its second week of release and impressed with a $21m weekend. After three weeks, the film had grossed $62.8m domestically.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures is releasing in the US, with Fox International handling Lincoln’s international roll-out. Aside from a Jamaican release on Dec 5 and an opening in Puerto Rico at the end of November, the film hits international territories in early 2013.
In the majority of markets, Lincoln is releasing from mid-January through to February to take advantage of expected awards momentum, though it is scheduled to be released in Japan on April 19.
“The pedigree of Steven Spielberg combined with an all-star cast, led by the incredible performance of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, makes the film a perfect choice for international audiences in the run-up to the Academy Awards,” explains Fox International co-president Paul Hanneman.
Spielberg’s box-office history tends to suggest Lincoln will be as welcomed by international audiences as it has been domestically. More often than not, two-thirds of global returns for Spielberg’s outings come from the overseas market, reaching as high as 79% for The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn (unsurprising given the European interest in the brand) and 70% for Schindler’s List.
One possible concern for Spielberg lies in the recent results for other notable film-makers when tackling political figures. Clint Eastwood’s biopic J. Edgar managed just $79m worldwide following its release in November 2011, though it is worth noting Lincoln has already topped J. Edgar’s domestic haul of $37.3m. Oliver Stone did not reach back as far into history as Spielberg and Eastwood for his take on George W Bush, yet W. fared even worse, with just $25.5m domestically and a mere $4m overseas.
Whether this indicates a general apathy among international audiences towards US politics is unclear, though the $205.4m worldwide success of JFK in the early 1990s suggests the appeal of a US political biopic could be more down to the quality of the film, given that neither J. Edgar nor W. were particularly well-received.
However, fortunes at the global box office have been mixed recently for Spielberg. While Tintin was a hit internationally, most overseas audiences failed to take to War Horse where, despite a decent return of almost $30m in the UK, it managed to gross just shy of $100m internationally for an overall haul of $177.6m. Indy’s return in 2008’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull prompted the third-best result overall (based on unadjusted grosses) for Spielberg, at a mammoth $786.6m worldwide. However, another foray into historical events with 2005’s Munich resulted in a domestic return of $47.4m and one of his lowest overseas tallies at $83m.
Still, when Spielberg steps out of the blockbuster arena, it is not always the case that it results in sub-par box office. Catch Me If You Can (2002), a biopic of con artist Frank Abagnale Jr, flew to $352.1m worldwide, with $187.5m corralled internationally; while the director’s Second World War epic Saving Private Ryan hit $481.8m worldwide ($265.3m internationally) and scooped Spielberg his second Oscar for best director (though it lost out to Shakespeare In Love for best picture). Schindler’s List is Spielberg’s most successful film in Oscar terms, winning seven awards out of its 12 nominations including best picture and best director.
Other ventures into conflict, such as the First World War-set War Horse, have proven less successful for Spielberg, however. His war comedy 1941, starring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Treat Williams, took $31.8m domestically on its way to $92.5m worldwide, and his other Second World War-set drama, Empire Of The Sun, starring Christian Bale, is one of Spielberg’s lowest-ever grossers domestically with just $22.2m on its way to a soft $66.7m worldwide.
Steven Spielberg at the worldwide box office
|Film||Year||US gross||Int’l gross||Worldwide gross|
|The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn||2011||$77.6m||$296.4m||$374m|
|Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull||2008||$317.1m||$469.5m||$786.6m|
|War of the Worlds||2005||$234.3m||$357.5m||$591.7m|
|Catch Me If You Can||2002||$164.6m||$187.5m||$352.1m|
|A.I. Artificial Intelligence||2001||$78.6m||$157.3m||$235.9m|
|Saving Private Ryan||1998||$216.5m||$265.3m||$481.8m|
|The Lost World: Jurassic Park||1997||$229.1m||$389.6m||$618.6m|
|Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade||1989||$197.2m||$277m||$474.2m|
|Empire of the Sun||1987||$22.2m||$44.5m||$66.7m|
|The Color Purple||1985||$98.5m||$43.5m||$142m|
|Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom||1984||$179.9m||$153.2m||$333.1m|
|E.T. The Extra Terrestrial||1982||$359.2m||$357.8m||$717m|
|Raiders of the Lost Ark||1981||$212.2m||$141.8m||$354m|
|Close Encounters of the Third Kind||1977||$116.4m||$171.7m||$288.1m|
Lincoln selected international release dates