For many decades, one simple truth has reigned over the global film industry: for a film to truly be a success, it must be a success in America. America: the home of Hollywood! It’s where the biggest celebrities on the planet make their names! Even if they don’t actually live there, it’s where they go to get rich and famous. Good old American money. They wouldn’t be anywhere without it!
But that’s changing.
Even now, as an American, I can tell you that practically every other American moviegoer believes a movie lives and dies on the American box office. Nothing else matters. In fact, do they even release movies in other countries? Once upon a time, that may have been true. But the international box office is becoming a force. China, especially, has really stepped up in the last five years or so and, suddenly, it’s not uncommon for a film to make more money there than it does in North America. And I’m not talking about foreign films that Americans have never even heard of; I’m referring to American films. Big ones. In fact, let’s start with this one.
Americans love to pretend that they hate Michael Bay’s Transformers films. Even I didn’t care for the first one, but can admit that they can be fun distractions, despite their lack of substance. And the most recent one, Age of Extinction, is actually my favorite. But we Americans loved to rag on it. I saw many a social media commenter talking about how it “only” made $245 million and how the end was near for the franchise. Well, they were kind of right. It certainly made $245 million . . . in North America. Internationally, it grossed an additional $859 million for a worldwide total of approximately $1.1 billion on a $210 million budget. All it really needed to gross in order to turn a profit was about $525 million (or approximately 2.5 times its budget). No sweat. Especially after it made $320 million in China, alone – more than in North America. Sensing the rising Chinese tide, Bay set part of the film in China, making an already-promising box office into a phenomenal one. Marvel did something similar with Iron Man 3, adding one small scene set in China (the scene did not make the domestic cut of the film). It worked, giving the film a boost to $121 million in China.
Here’s another example, from just this past weekend. Movie lovers everywhere waited with baited breath to see how well the attempted revival of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise would go over. Once the undisputed champion of the box office, the series faltered with the fourth installment, On Stranger Tides, and it appeared to be the end. Reports came out at the conclusion of the 2017 Memorial Day weekend that the film had pulled in $63 million for the three-day weekend and, counting Memorial Day, $78 million over the four-day weekend. Solid numbers, but not up to the property’s past standards (it’s the second-lowest opening weekend in franchise history, behind the first film. Dead Man’s Chest opened with a $135 million three-day weekend.).
But what most Americans didn’t bother to notice is that the film also raked in $248 million in international markets (including $68 million in China) for a $326 million total. With a $230 million budget, it needs about $250 million more to turn a profit. It looks promising, even with little support from America.
I saw Me Before You because I have a crush on Emilia Clarke that I’m absolutely not ashamed of in any way, shape, or form. But, I walked out surprised by how solid the film was. Funny, moving, poignant, and thought-provoking, with a performance by Clarke that was bound to open up more doors for her and prevent her from being stereotyped after so many years playing Daenerys Targaryen on “Game of Thrones”. I tried to get people to listen. They didn’t. The film made $56 million on a $20 million budget. Profitable, but not especially noteworthy. Except that was only its North American intake. Add on another $152 million from the international audience and we have a film with a brand new leading lady powerhouse that grossed over ten times its budget, making it an unqualified smash success.
Here’s a question: what’s your opinion of the 2017 animated film, Your Name.? If you’re American, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about, with the exception of the small pocket of dedicated anime fans out there. What if I told you that Your Name. currently sits at number eight on the list of the ten highest-grossing films of 2017, right between Fifty Shades Darker and XXX: The Return of Xander Cage? The film was released in North America. It grossed about $5 million. Internationally, it earned an additional $349 million – this time mostly thanks to Japan ($235 million). I couldn’t find budget information, but rest assured, it was tiny and this film is a monstrous success, even without American support.
My final example invokes the recent conclusion of a longstanding film series with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. I recently saw some people comment about the already-announced reboot of the property, commenting that it might now be possible for those films to be successful, as if the first series wasn’t. Oh, we silly Americans. Yes, in North America, the movie only grossed $27 million on a $40 million budget. Not enough. But it didn’t need to be. You weren’t necessary, America! The rest of the world loves them some Resident Evil and rewarded the film with an additional $285 million for a total of almost eight times its budget. “Oh, well, it was the conclusion. After five other parts, they wanted to see how it would end!” you say? So, does that explain how the fourth installment, Afterlife, grossed a total of $300 million ($240 million international) and the fifth, Retribution, scored a $240 million haul ($198 million international)? The series was a hit, with the six films earning over $1.2 billion on a total budget of $288 million. So, of course they’re rebooting it. They don’t need America, but imagine if they get them, with a new take!
Filmmaking is more global than ever, and the numbers are starting to bear it out with ever-increasing frequency. As a result, it’s becoming apparent on-screen, as well. There are more exotic filming locations, more diverse casts, and more strategic release strategies. Filmmakers will continue to experiment and branch out in the future, as well. Sure, in spite of my clickbaity headline, North America is still a huge potential source of revenue for any given film studio, but now there are plenty of fish in the sea and it’s time for Americans to expand their cinematic worldview before their tastes become irrelevant, altogether.
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