Can the unusual global release strategy of Sony and Paramount’s The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn pay off to mark the beginning of a thrilling new franchise?

An animation film directed for the first time by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson and based on a beloved children’s comic-book character would appear to be box-office gold. But the release of The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn faces some significant challenges. Biggest of all is that the character of Tintin, based on Belgian author Hergé’s titular series, is not known widely in the US.

To help build awareness, Sony and Paramount, which are sharing most territories, are releasing Tintin in the major European territories from October, two months ahead of its rollout in the US. The aim is to arrive in the US with the wind of a European blockbuster hit behind it.

“The late October launch coincides with a number of European holidays, including in the UK, France and Germany,” says Andrew Cripps, president of Paramount Pictures International. “When we started looking at release dates in conjunction with Sony, we felt like the best and biggest opportunity for Europe was releasing in that late October holiday period rather than getting caught up in the congestion that is year’s end.

“That coincides with the UK half-term [school holidays], and that late October, early November launch period has traditionally been a very strong launch period for big event movies.”

Spielberg’s film is a conflation of three well-known Tintin stories, produced by Jackson with Spielberg’s regular collaborator Kathleen Kennedy. It is written by three in-demand UK talents, directors Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead) and Joe Cornish (Attack The Block) and writer Steven Moffat (the Doctor Who TV series). The film features the voices and body movements (through motion-capture) of Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg, and has been filmed in 3D.

A huge global brand

Hergé’s 23-title comic-book series The Adventures Of Tintin, has sold more than 230 million copies worldwide and been translated into 70 languages. The books are noted for their universal appeal, combining action-packed storylines, swashbuckling adventure, slapstick humour and even a cute dog.

“Tintin is very well known in Europe and less well known in other parts of the world,” says Cripps. “The best thing for this film is to do very well in Europe and then move into the US on the back of huge success.”

However, Tintin is something of an unknown quantity as it does not lend itself easily to box-office comparisons. The material is very different to the Marvel and DC Comics spin-offs, with the scope, popularity and origin of the story bearing closest resemblance to the Asterix series, a much-loved French property that has seen various film adaptations.

The most recent, 2008’s Asterix At The Olympic Games, a big-budget French-language, live-action comedy starring Gérard Depardieu, failed to ignite outside Europe, which accounted for $130.7m of the film’s $132.4m worldwide total.

Although Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is the latest release to prove the international gross can carry a film — less than 25% of its total box office came from the US — success is essential in all corners of the globe, particularly the US and Asia, for a film to push towards the $1bn mark.

Cripps believes Tintin has the potential. “The animation and Spielberg factor will be big in Asia,” he says. “France and Belgium will also be huge. But this film has huge global appeal, whether or not you are a Tintin fan, from the cast to the talent behind the camera. It will be a huge global event. A big part of this story is Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg working together for the first time. For film fans around the world, that says this is big and special.”

Paramount is taking English-language and Asian markets for the film — excluding Japan (Toho-Towa), South Korea (Lotte) and India (Sony) — while Sony has the rest of the world, including France and Belgium. Brussels gets the world premiere in the afternoon of October 22, with a second premiere in Paris that evening. As Screen went to press, the studios had kept most of the marketing materials under wraps, with footage unveiled at Comic-Con in July. Spielberg and Jackson were in attendance and the online buzz suggests fans have been mostly impressed by the quality of the motion-capture (“This ain’t The Polar Express,” as one blogger puts it).

The studios have also signed a robust roster of consumer products and publishing licences tied to the film.

Shaking up the old order

If it pays off, Tintin’s Europe-led release strategy could herald a rethink on the US-first approach of most big releases. But Cripps is cautious. “Tintin is a unique property. I’m not sure we’re going to see many films with the same characteristics this has, just given its history in Europe,” he explains. “But as the world becomes more of a global marketplace, it is incumbent on distributors to find the best single release date for individual territories or regions. That’s part of what you’re seeing in this.”

Franchises reign supreme at the box office, accounting for 37 of the top 50 films all time. And 10 of the top 20 are adaptations of popular fiction properties aimed primarily at children. Paramount and Sony are hoping Tintin has enough appeal to join those ranks.

Tintin goes to the cinema
International rollout UK, France, Belgium October 26
Germany October 27
Spain, Italy October 28
Russia November 3
Japan December 3
US December 23
Australia December 26
Brazil January 20, 2012