The 2011 worldwide box office is back on track thanks to dazzling international performances from the summer’s biggest hits. Plus Screen analyses the local hits of summer.

The summer of 2011 was a record-breaking period at the global box office. Due to the standout performances of blockbuster sequels Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon and Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and notably strong international performances from Kung Fu Panda 2, The Hangover Part II, and Cars 2, a significant year-on year global box office deficit had been greatly reduced by the end of August.

“The opportunity to turn around the slower start to the year was ripe for the taking,” says Dave Hollis, executive vice-president, theatrical exhibition, sales and distribution for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.

While the summer box office has traditionally been measured between the US Memorial Day weekend (the last Monday in May) and Labor Day (the first Monday in September), the growing strength of the international market has led studio distribution arms to release summer-type blockbusters earlier in May to take advantage of international holidays.

Pirates 4 earned 77% of its gross outside North America

Sony was among the early exponents of this strategy with Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 3 (2007) opening over the first weekend in May. This year, two Paramount titles, Fast & Furious 5 and Thor, began their international runs in mid-April. Those two films are among this year’s 10 highest-grossing releases to date, but Screen’s summer figures focus on titles released in major territories between the first weekend in May (May 6) and Labor Day on September 5.

After a slow opening to 2011, which was always likely to pale in comparison to 2010’s electric start when Avatar and Alice In Wonderland together made a combined $3.8bn worldwide, the summer releases have made up much of the lost ground. The top 20 films released globally between May 6 and September 5 this year outgrossed the top 20 films of the same period last summer and represent the best-performing summer top 20 since 2007.

“Global box office was around 20% down year-on-year heading into the summer,” says Hollis. “From May the gap started to shrink significantly, still more in June and July, and by the end of August the gap was about 3%.”

The six biggest global films from the period are all franchise titles. Three films released in 3D (in addition to 2D) have spearheaded the revival. Warner Bros’ Harry Potter: And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 ($1.3bn), Paramount’s Transformers: Dark Of The Moon ($1.1bn) and WDSMPI’s Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides ($1bn) each hit $1bn, the first time three films have done so in the same year.

Various combinations of those three films accounted for the top two performers in nine of the biggest 12 global markets. No other film released in the period grossed within $300m of them.

‘The opportunity to turn around the slower start to the year was ripe for the taking’

Dave Hollis, Walt Disney SMP

The combination of what Hollis calls “rock ’em, sock ’em” action titles and family-friendly animation continued to dominate, but there were a number of strong performances from adult-oriented comedies. The Hangover Part II ($581.5m) was guaranteed a strong outing, but standalonesBridesmaids, Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses all exceeded expectations around the world.

There were the inevitable disappointments: Cowboys & Aliens suffered from an international ambivalence towards westerns while Green Lantern and late-summer titles Conan The Barbarian and Fright Night all failed to ignite.

The biggest story of the summer was the pre-eminence of the international market. Pirates, Harry Potter and Transformers all crossed the $700m international mark, the first three films ever to do so within the period.

Each of the top seven global films this year took a higher percentage of their box office from international compared to the US than last summer’s top seven. Pirates 4 earned a whopping 76.9% of its total theatrical gross outside North America.

Although the National Association Of Theatre Owners (NATO) has reported an estimated 1% rise in admissions in North America between May 6 and Labor Day compared with the same period in 2010 and record summer box office revenue ($4.4bn), the top six summer titles all grossed less in North America than the preceding title in their franchise. International is picking up the slack; Transformers grossed $171.1m in China alone and Harry Potter and Pirates each took over $100m in Japan.

“Looking at the box office for Pirates, we were very much aware that we make movies for a global box office,” says Hollis. “The split accentuates the need for studio minds to create films that resonate with local sensibility wherever local is, be it LA or Prague. We saw great box office in places like Russia and China, which are exploding onto the map but also out of places like the UK. We don’t measure ourselves by any one country.”

And the local films that performed well this summer:



A cast of national TV personalities and clever dating contributed to the success of Paradise’s comedy All Inclusive [above], which grossed $6.1m over the summer. Director Eduard Radzyukevich’s film follows a group of holiday-makers in Turkey, one of whom is a vet trying to avoid a hitman hired by a jealous husband. The holiday theme contributed to the summer timing of the project and Paradise managed to sandwich the release between several Hollywood blockbusters.


China Film Group and Huaxia’s historical epic Beginning Of The Great Revival is China’s second biggest film of all time ($64.2m) behind 2010 hit Aftershock ($98.2m). An accompanying piece to China Film Group’s The Founding Of A Republic (2009), it covers the years of revolution between 1911 and 1921. High production values, the nationalist theme and a star-studded local cast led by Andy Lau, Daniel Wu, Ye Liu, Zhou Xun and Fan Bingbing helped huge local receipts. China Lion closed deals in Canada and US through its partnership with AMC Theatres but despite Beginning…locally grossing twice its nearest local competitor The Lost Bladesman, mixed reviews have hindered its popularity outside China. 


Entertainment Film Distributors’ comedy The Inbetweeners Movie, a spin-off of a popular TV series, took the market by surprise to gross $67m, becoming the second most successful UK independent of all time (behind The King’s Speech). The film had a large built-in fan base with 3.4 million Facebook likes. Its mid-August release date meant it sidestepped the biggest blockbusters but still capitalised on the summer holidays and the two weekends 16-18 year-old students receive their exam results. It opens next in Australia, the second-biggest territory for the TV series, on November 20 via Village Roadshow. It does not have a US distributor yet but IM Global is handling international sales and a local remake of the TV series is in production at MTV.


Toho achieved four of the top five local releases in Japan over the summer period with successes from a perennial franchise and one of the world’s most recognised animation studios. On $56.3m Studio Ghibli’s latest anime From Up On Poppy Hill which screened to positive reviews at Toronto, narrowly outperformed Pokemon: Best Wishes The Movie, the 14th film in the feature series. Written by Hayao Miyazaki, the former is a story of teenage love set against the build up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics directed by his son Goro. Both films scored well despite the local industry’s ongoing fragility following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March. However, neither got close to previous Studio Ghibli standouts Spirited Away and Arietty.


CJ Entertainment’s surprise hit Sunny led a number of heavy-hitting local performers on $51.1m. The drama was a slow-burn at the Korean box office, grossing $384,425 in its opening weekend and building to $2.3m and $4.2m in subsequent weekends. Kang Hyeong-Cheol’s drama depicts a woman’s attempt to reunite her childhood friends, seven girls who formed a group to confront a gang. Despite its relatively little known-cast, the film was the second-best performer of the summer, behind only Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.


Eros’ romantic comedy Ready and Reliance’s action crime drama Singham both crossed $30m in India this summer. Ready, starring Bollywood heartthrob Salman Khan, opened stronger of the two outside India, grossing $14.9m on its opening weekend from 17 territories, while Singhamtook $10.5m from 34 international markets. Reliance’s second hit of the summer was Bodyguard, also starring Khan. The action comedy, directed by Siddique, had a timely release during the religious holidays of Eid and Ganesh Chathurti and looks set to become India’s biggest film of the summer period.


Three local comedies wowed French audiences this summer (and those in French-speaking Belgium and Switzerland). The best performer was Mars Distribution’s Case Départ ($15.8m), directed, written by and starring popular TV and radio personalities Fabrice Eboué and Thomas N’Gijol. Case Départ deals with issues of race by taking the protagonists, who deny their Caribbean heritage, on a supernatural journey back in time to confront the reality of slavery first-hand. Pathé’s Les Tuche ($13.3m), the story of a family who relocate to Monaco after a massive lottery win, followed close behind having been released a week before. UGC Distribution’s L’Eleve Ducobu, a comedy about a young boy who has to cheat to pass his school exams, took $13.1m.


Roadshow’s much-anticipated family comedy Red Dog benefited from strong word-of-mouth, a high volume of repeat viewings and a tailwind that has extended into Australia’s September school holidays to gross $17m as of September 25. Based on a well-known true story of a dog who befriends a bus driver and manages to unite a mining community in Western Australia, Kriv Stenders’ film opened on $1.8m over the August 4 weekend and went on to take more than $1m on six consecutive weekends. Josh Lucas stars with Rachael Taylor, Noah Taylor and Keisha Castle-Hughes.


Fox international’s romantic comedy What A Man, starring local actor Thomas Kretschmann, has grossed $14m in Germany since opening in August. Writer-director Matthias Schweighofer’s romantic drama follows a young teacher’s journey of self-discovery after his girlfriend leaves him. Earlier in the summer, SPRI comedy Resturlaub, about a brewery manager who moves to Argentina, opened on $2.2m and went on to gross $6.1m.

(Local hits profiles by Andreas Wiseman and Peter Stuart.)