Screen's first-quarter box-office survey indicates a widening gap between international and domestic performance. While US and Canadian revenues ran around 3% off the 2007 pace, the international tally was 30% up year on year. In financial terms that means the international market was responsible for $4.28bn (71%) of the $6.5bn generated worldwide in Q1.
The figure is 93% higher than the $2.2bn domestic takings - an astonishing number given the recent industry rule of thumb is that domestic takes a third and the rest of the world two-thirds.
The reasons are easy to identify and follow a now well-established pattern. The clearest is the strong performance of key local films. In Germany and France, homegrown hits have contributed heavily to 46% and 22% rises respectively in box-office revenues.
Local films jumped in number and box office by 37% in China and Hong Kong, 30% in Russia, 92% in Turkey and a jaw-dropping 188% in Germany. There were also substantial gains in secondary territories such as Greece, Poland, Thailand and Sweden, where home-grown Arn - The Knight Templar played to $20m across all of Scandinavia.
Conversely, box-office declines in some territories can be attributed directly to lack of local product. The absence of a strong native entry in South Korea, for example, saw its cinema share fall 28% and cinema-going as a whole dropping by 60%. That may be a short-term effect because the most anticipated local productions are launching in the summer.
The bigger question swirling around the rapid expansion is whether the success of international markets can be dismissed as an anomaly or should be viewed as a nascent trend that can be expected to extend reliably in future.
We have been here before. A sharp viewing upturn has previously been credited to commercial success for indigenous movies. In 1994, Les Visiteurs set records in France along with comparable success for the UK's Four Weddings And A Funeral, Germany's Der Bewegte Mann, Italy's Il Postino and Australia's Muriel's Wedding.
While hardly a moribund market, Hum Aapke Hai Kaun that year became the all-time box-office success and sparked a renewed vigour for Bollywood production.
However, the following year's box office stuck the pin in that balloon. In the subsequent decade-and-a-half, there's been inconsistent growth internationally, with major territories experiencing fits and starts of activity; largely but not exclusively reflective of the popularity of homegrown cinema.
There are changes since then that cannot be ignored, however. One is the interest of the studios in international production alongside its distribution muscle, and the success of international independents.
Pathe, for example, has taken third place among distributors in the international market so far this year, mainly due to its French mega-hit Welcome To The Sticks and the latest Asterix, which jointly accounted for most of its gross. While its position cannot survive a summer of Hollywood blockbuster giants, its performance is proof of a changing market.
Also evident is a talent explosion comparable to the one that began in the 1950s and continued into the 1970s. It can be seen in every corner of the globe and is flowering in Russia, India, France, Turkey, Denmark, Romania, Mexico and Thailand. Films from those and other countries will have an impact on film language.
The bigger question is how widely those movies will be seen or whether wider exposure will translate into the sort of embrace that invigorates the industry and enlivens movie-going.
|TOP GLOBAL GROSSERS FOR Q1 2008*|
|Title||Int'l ($)||N Amer ($)||Global ($)|
|I Am Legend||213,203,914||56,994,417||270,198,331|
|National Treasure: Book Of ...||173,279,702||85,045,379||258,325,081|
|Horton Hears A Who!||75,649,082||117,589,254||193,238,336|
|Alvin And The Chipmunks||99,125,708||69,424,545||168,550,253|
|Welcome To The Sticks||157,314,114||-||157,314,114|
|The Bucket List||58,150,959||90,676,598||148,827,557|
|Asterix ... Olympics||130,521,428||-||130,521,428|
|The Spiderwick Chronicles||48,772,489||69,399,646||118,172,135|
|*Does not include 2007 box office|