As I have mentioned in past posts, Hollywood is increasingly relying on the foreign market to make up the short fall in domestic totals. In the past couple of years, it seems like film after film that has had middling or even downright poor results here has managed to make a profit, thanks to overseas.
The juggernaut there is China, without question. A typical example is WARCRAFT, a major flop on this side of the pond with a domestic gross of less than a third of its $160 million costs (that’s not even factoring in advertising). However, the movie pulled in a mammoth $386 million overseas, including $213.5 million from China alone. That adds up to a worldwide showing of almost $434 million or almost ten times what the film did in America and Canada.
However, there are definite drawbacks to relying so much on overseas audiences. Producers end up crafting movies that will appeal to as many countries as possible, which means simplified plots, less creative daring, and even self-censorship. Also, while China sounds like a gold rush, only a selected number of foreign movies can play there each year and distributors only get 25% of the take, a figure much lower than anywhere else.
On top of that, Chinese audiences are starting to demonstrate that they, too, are getting sick of sequels. The most recent example is TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT, which under-performed domestically, but did $120 million on its opening weekend in China. However, the film then dropped 74% in weekend 2 and another 75% in weekend 3. Opening weekends are key with many of these big films, but they do need at least some positive word of mouth to sustain themselves (WONDER WOMAN being a great recent example). That is happening increasingly less, which should be giving executives pause.
That said, superhero movies are still performing more often than not, so there will likely be plenty of those still to come.
Data courtesy of Box Office Mojo.