August 1, 2011

THE BIJOU: International Footnote

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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There’s been quite a bit written in the last few years about the phenomenon of US films doing much better business overseas than domestically, sometimes more than making up for American disappointment or failure–and rightly so, as a glance at Mitch Metcalf’s chart today confirms.  Indications are that the latest Harry Potter and Transformers sagas may end up doubling their US boxoffice overseas, Kung Fu Panda 2 has done even better than that, and the international results from Pirates 4 make up an incredible 76% of its worldwide total.  
Just as striking, though, are the different results once beyond the Top 10.  The “bonus” foreign grosses on the Top 10 films over their US boxoffice may ultimately exceed $2B, making foreign distribution look like hitting the lottery.  But the discrepancy is incredibly top-heavy:  after those gigantic animated and fantasy-action franchises are cleared away (7 of the Top 10 are in 3D), things are quite different.  Not one of the films ranked 11-20 on the SHOWBUZZDAILY chart has grossed more than $35M higher internationally than its total in the US.  A few of those, to be sure (Captain America is the most obvious) are still very early in their foreign runs.  But most of them, like Green Hornet, Just Go With It, Rango, and Battle:  Los Angeles are pretty much exhausted worldwide, and none did a tremendous amount more overseas than they had at home.  Even Bridesmaids and Super 8 have now played in more than half the world, with results that are currently below their respective US grosses.
All this suggests that studios hoping for international bonanzas to bail them out of soft US boxoffice are taking a big risk:  while foreign audiences respond to the “event” status of a few mega-movies–fulfilling studio dreams by seemingly having little regard for their quality–that charity doesn’t extend to the lower, or even the middle, parts of the release schedule.  Most movies that look like frogs on their US release don’t transform into princes just because they’ve been kissed overseas.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."