As the blockbuster success of Angels & Demons outside the US is proving, a number of major studio films are being crafted and targeted with international markets in mind.
Foreign’ is a term you hear a lot around the industry in Los Angeles. It refers to the international box-office performance of a film and is used as a noun.
For example, Angels & Demons is going gangbusters right now in ‘foreign’ but Star Trek has done better in ‘domestic’.
It’s a vaguely derogatory term, of course, relegating the 50 or so significant territories outside the US with all their different tastes, audience demographics and exhibition landscapes into one lumpen market.
“The term “foreign is vaguely derogatory, relegating the 50 or so significant territories outside the US with all their different tastes audience demographics and exhibition landscapes into one lumpen market”
But then again, when greenlighting certain films, studios are tailoring their appeal to this cumulative bloc of countries which can generate multiple times the domestic gross. Indeed Angels & Demons is the perfect example of a title which its studio - Sony - always assumed would be a bigger deal overseas than the US. So far it has grossed $315m in international versus $123.3m in domestic.
Sony Pictures Releasing International president Mark Zucker identified to me some of the elements which made it catch fire outside the US. Beyond the fact the first film, The Da Vinci Code, grossed a huge $536m in international to $217.5m in domestic, Angels & Demons appeals to a European audience because (a) it is set in Europe, (b) it features European actors such as Ewan McGregor, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Stellan Skarsgard, (c) it has an intelligent story, something which apparently appeals more in Europe than in the US, and (d) it revolves around the Catholic Church, which helped swell admissions in Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain and through Latin America.
I also talked to Andrew Cripps, president of Paramount Pictures International, to discuss why Star Trek, such a runaway hit in the US, has not done as well in ‘foreign’. He sounded surprised at the question, saying PPI is thrilled with the success of Star Trek, which stands at $119m in international to $232m in domestic.
“It’s done way, way better than any other Star Trek movie and results in the English-speaking territories were on a par with the US,” he explained. It hasn’t fared so well in Italy, Spain or Japan, however. “In some territories, science fiction traditionally doesn’t do well,” he said.
“We did amazing business in China. There’s no history of Star Trek there at all, but the movie did $8m.” Cripps said his mantra is that there is no such thing as international¹ or Œforeign¹, but there are 50 countries which are all vital and different. So you can only generalise about what works better in Œforeign¹:
- Big stars can make a difference in major territories such as Italy and Japan, which could explain the huge success of Australia and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.
- International audiences will embrace non-US settings, characters and culture much more than US audiences. Hence bigger numbers for Slumdog Millionaire, the James Bond films and ABBA-fest MammaMia! The Movie.
- They have a greater sense of history, which could explain the success of Troy ($364m in 2004).
- They love a family franchise - Potter, Pirates, Narnia. They don’t, however, embrace US comedies so readily, which will often do better at home.
- And ‘foreign’ loves animation, as Cripps will tell you, since he took Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa to a dizzying $414m. Of the 45 films that have made more than $350m in international, 10 are animated.
Zucker is hoping Angels & Demons will cross the $350m mark in the next few weeks, more than tripling its domestic gross. And Cripps has high hopes for the Transformers sequel to chase the $389m international gross of the first one. No wonder Sony launched the former in Rome and the latter in Tokyo. For some Hollywood pictures, domestic audiences are no longer the priority.
SUCCESS STORIES AT the INTERNATIONAL BOX OFFICE, 2008-09
|Film||Int distributor||Int gross||Dom gross|
|1 Mamma | Mia! The Movie||UPI||$457.5m||$144.1m|
|2 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa||PPI||$414.1m||$180m|
|3 Quantum Of Solace||SPRI||$407m||$168.4m|
|4 Angels & Demons||SPRI||$315m||$123.3m|
|5 Slumdog Millionaire||Pathé/various||$219.5m||$141.3m|
|6 The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.||WBPI||$202.3m||$127.5m|
|7 Fast & Furious||UPI||$193.9m||$154.4m|
|9 High School Musical 3: Senior Year||WDSMPI||$160.5m||$90.6m|
|10 Australia||Fox Int’l||$158m||$49.6m|