Battle for the box office

9 Feb

By Lurker

Due to the recent flurry of articles published on the Internet regarding British actors taking roles in the U.S., we decided to take a look at the box office numbers for the domestic U.S. and compare those with the international numbers.  Reviewing box office sales, a declining trend is prevalent in U.S. numbers beginning in 2003 [1]. It’s been a slow trending decline for ticket sales averaging a year over year loss of 2%, for a total of 16% loss in 8 years.   In looking at recent Hollywood trends, we have discussed here a number of tactics that Hollywood is trying to employ to stave off the box office decline, which includes cheaper productions including actors from all over the globe.  However, when looking for trends and comparisons patterns emerged as we looked over top movies for a three-year period 2008-2010. The numbers were quite intriguing and set off some interesting side research to see if the trends prevailed! The numbers suggest international box office trends for genres and subject matter vary in some degree from the U.S. box office when analyzed in a side-by-side comparison. Let ‘s take a look …

In 2008, the top 2 U.S. movies Dark Knight and Iron Man had relatively stellar years, however, their international box office totals were 46% and 45% respectively.  While very respectable there are more interesting numbers that tell a much different story. Let’s pick the big hitter first! Quantum of Solace raked in $576 million worldwide 1 and of that 70% ($407 mil) was from international ticket sales! The next movie that appears to have very similar numbers was Madagascar 2, in which 69% of the total draws from the international box office. For 2008, Quantum of Solace ranked #9 and Madagascar 2 was #7. A few others in the >60% totals for international box office are Hancock, Kung Fu Panda, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Before reviewing 2009, we decided to use the run rate from 2008 of +60% box office totals as our base line going forward.

In reviewing 2009 numbers, there appeared to be another interesting story and a potential trend. Of the top 10 movies of the year for the U.S. market, only two movies were in the same international percentages as 2008. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was # 3 in the U.S. rankings, took in 68% of it’s total from the international market, and the animated feature Ice Age ranked #10 another stunner taking $690 million or 77% of it’s total from overseas. The movie 2012 released in 2009 was not a top 10 film for the U.S. market, however, its totals exceeded Ice Age, over 78% or $600 million came from outside the U.S.  While in 2008 the top 10 movies seemed fairly even in percentages, 2009 told a much different story. I’ve given you the top international numbers. However, three movies ranked 6, 7 & 8 in the U.S. really didn’t perform well overseas. The Hangover, Star Trek and The Blind Side.  Confirming with IMDB[2] they were all released overseas. So it begs the question of why? We’ll look at that question after reviewing 2010.

2010 seemed liked a good year for the movies overall at first glance. However again, six movies of the top 10 U.S. rankings all had >60% ticket sales from overseas. The big winner was Avatar with $2 billion, nearly 72% of it’s take and because it straddled 2009 came in head to head with Toy Story 3 in the U.S. rankings for number one. However, you might be surprised to hear that Harry Potter and Shrek were both running at 68% of their box office from the international market, with Alice in Wonderland closely behind.  So what happened to Toy Story 3? It pulled in 61% or $649 million internationally, overall 5th as a percentage! Sadly, Iron Man 2 #4 overall for U.S. only had 49% of its gross from overseas.  Inception ranked #6 in the U.S., also hit our percentages as 6th with 65%.

In this three-year period there are a significant number of international big hitters. These favored genres made us look into other years to see if these trends are consistent. In fact, having a >60% draw from the international box office trend has been around for a few decades. So let’s check them all out, world destruction, fantasy films, animated features, conspiracy and W.W.II.

World destruction movies like 2012 fit the bill and match our criteria for international box office percentages.

  • Armageddon (1998)                                     63%
  • The Day After Tomorrow (2004)              66%
  • Terminator 3 (2003)                                    65%

Animated movies that didn’t fall into a U.S. top 10 like Toy Story 3 and Shrek but enjoyed overseas.

  • Ratatouille (2007)                                       66%
  • Finding Nemo (2003)                                60%
  • Hercules (1997)                                           60%

Another interesting genre, which covers a lot of ground for international moviegoers are fantasy movies either original screenplays or book adaptations. They are all big draws overseas like Inception.  It’s interesting that The Golden Compass was not a U.S. favorite but made $300 million overseas.

  • The Matrix Reloaded (2003)                      61%
  • Jurassic Park (1993)                                    61%
  • Lord of the Rings (2002 & 2003)              66%
  • Harry Potter                                                  68%
  • The Golden Compass (2007)                      81%

Often overlooked because they are period movies are movies that depict World War II. These seem to be huge favorites as the number put them in +70% above our range. We’ll use this period movie concept as a slot for Titanic.

  • Life is Beautiful (1993)                                75%
  • Schindler’s List (2004)                                70%
  • Atonement (2007)                                        60%
  • Titanic (1998)                                                67%

Lastly we can’t forget James Bond. The genre for conspiracy, intrigue and terrorism has a number of big winners and a surprising find in The Last Samurai.

  • The DaVinci Code (2006) 71%,
  • Die Hard 4 (2007)                                     64%,
  • Mission Impossible (1996)                      60%,
  • The Mummy (1999)                                  62%
  • The Last Samurai (2003)                        75%.

Let’s look at that question of why those three movies from 2009 didn’t fair so well. One told the story of an American trip to Las Vegas, another the story of an American family and Star Trek rooted in American television. Iron Man again, an American comic book character. So what didn’t the international box off swoon over? All of these concepts and then some, like Top Gun (1986), Spider Man (2002), The Godfather (1972), and from 2008 The Dark Knight (Batman comics).

As you can see the numbers tell a unique story over the years. The genres depicting death, destruction, fantasy and intrigue seem to have universal appeal. Movies highlighting Americana or those, which have an underlying American plot, do not have the same appeal overseas. While they are making money overseas, the big money seems to be targeted to films that have a story line that crosses cultural boundaries. Let’s hope Hollywood isn’t attempting to use foreign actors in an American cultural movie like Superman as an attempt to appeal to the international box office. That idea doesn’t seem to hold up when examining the numbers as we did here! Given that the U.S. is only 4.5% of the world population[3] it’s possible that Hollywood should consider film ideas from some of the genres highlighted here!

Please join us to discuss on Thursday Feb 10th, 7pm E/ 12UTC!

46 Responses to “Battle for the box office”

  1. Open Book February 10, 2011 at 5:43 PM #

    This is a really great article and great analysis Lurker!!

    That’s why it makes more sense to release BelAmi first Internationally before the US. I would imagine. No?

    I mean period dramas tend to do better internationally. Look at Kings Speech? It opened in London before it was released in the US. It opened in limited release due to it’s R rating. It seems a lot of really good ArtHouse films got tagged with an R rating this year. Black Swan, Blue Valentine? Hmm!!

    • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 6:34 PM #

      I think the bigger eye opener for me was that you can’t expect a film to do well in both markets. So expectations should be adjusted accordingly.

      Unless – its a genre that both like.

      If it’s not, then plan accordingly.

      BelAmi, should be released overseas and should be expected to do fairly well in Europe based on what I’ve seen in these numbers.

      • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:10 PM #

        How well do u think Superman and Spiderman will do internationally?

        I agree based on the numbers it does not look like it would appeal to an international market. However, perhaps they are experimenting with the story broadening it to include other countrys? That seems like that would be the way to go IMO.

        • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 7:39 PM #

          Well Spiderman from 2002 made $418 mill overseas. US take was $403 mil. So, i think you have to be cautious and not say ‘they aren’t making money’ – they are.

          But everyone in business works on percentages. And if you look at those, they aren’t knocking it out of the park. So some could use that and ding the film.

          I think the idea of every film works in every market is misleading based on what i’ve seen in these numbers.

          • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:55 PM #

            ITA!!! Really great analysis…

  2. Lurker February 10, 2011 at 6:39 PM #

    I would say that of the films I looked at – I did take note of all the ratings. I would say the ratings overseas didn’t seem like a consideration for the box office numbers.

    Maybe that is a U.S. market hang up that isn’t or doesn’t factor into overseas markets.

    Honestly, I would have loved to had country by country numbers breakdown!

    • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:16 PM #

      Do u think American comic fans would support a Superman storyline that broke from the traditional American rural midwest town and Superman landed in another country?

      • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 7:22 PM #

        Well it’s interesting you mention that – I looked at all the Die Hard movies. Only Die Hard 4 – the subplot was cyber terrorism was very well liked overseas. The others did not hit the same numbers.

        I don’t know, maybe but it would have to pick up on that world destruction theme. Seemed very popular.
        Most people don’t even really recall The Day after Tomorrow with Dennis Quaid. I liked it (but I had read the source book about 6 years earlier). It ran some pretty hefty numbers overseas.

        I can’t get data for the Christopher Reeve Superman movies to analyze.

        • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:28 PM #

          Well! The times were different when Christopher Reeve Superman films came out. Studios did not have the Internet and video game industry to contend with.

          • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 7:35 PM #

            The data that I used didn’t go back very far.
            Remember that after 2000 that whole cultural things of ‘exporting americana’ seems to have failed. When that trend started I can’t see with the data I have. I suspect its been going on for a while.

  3. Comic Relief February 10, 2011 at 7:11 PM #

    The research on this article was excellent and sets this site apart from so many gossip sites. Your conclusion that Americana doesn’t sell well over-seas is not only revealing but should be a lesson to many American’s who are woefully obsessed with and exclusively focused on American culture.

    Is this why Warner Bros. backed away from a “Wonder Woman” feature film, (she practically wears the American flag as her costume)? As your article suggests her fall pilot may be better produced for TV.

    Should we expect poor box office for “Captain America”, already scheduled to be released this summer? This should not be a surprise but this movie actually stars an American in the title role.

    Since LIH mentioned British actor Henry Cavill, I was surprised you did not mention the last Superman movie, “Superman Returns” contributed by Director Bryan Singer and actor Brandon Routh. I heard this movie did well box office wise yet I do not believe the studio was happy with many factors regarding the film; including the actor starring in the leading role.

    • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 7:17 PM #

      Great Question regarding Superman Returns! I just ran that numbers and it fell in line with the other movies – only 48% returned from Overseas. So I would venture to say this is a trend, and maybe Captain America might suffer the same fate?

      I think based on what I see in these numbers, Americana might be best left to TV. if producers are expecting big numbers from overseas – or – expecting the ‘same response’ from overseas.

      I don’t see it, and thanks for appreciating my article!

    • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:19 PM #

      Welcome! CR….

      • Comic Relief February 10, 2011 at 7:42 PM #

        Thanks Open Book 🙂

    • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:24 PM #


      Perhaps Captain America should be on T.V. it sounds like a huge gamble for it to be released in movie theaters. I mean is Captain America that popular among comic book fans?

      • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 7:34 PM #

        So, the movies make money in the U.S. pretty good number $200 mill – if they are looking for more than that – then yeah – maybe a TV release would be a better gamble.

        I think the trends would make someone in business assume they could make the ‘same’ or ‘better’ than the U.S. BOX office and that trend doesn’t hold water for these Superhero type movies.

        For me, the gamble is in setting the expectations properly.

        • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:37 PM #

          Well 200 mill is not enough for a CGI film. Unless the budget was 100 mill which is cheap for a CGI film. Hmm!! Not sounding good!

          • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 7:41 PM #

            Right and then you have to deal with margins. So, you’re exactly right. I can’t tell budgets from what I saw. I might not have been profitable.

            • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:48 PM #

              Advertising and distribution. Not good!! They must think fans will turn out for this. I hope so, it has some stiff competition during the summer? I don’t know!!!

      • Comic Relief February 10, 2011 at 7:58 PM #

        Yes, he is. He’s arguably Superman for Marvel comics. Others sell better but in terms of characters, he is the elder statesman of the company. Maybe I should say he is the King of the Hill. He has multiple books and is considered the chairman of the Avengers which will open next year.

        • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 8:00 PM #

          Oh!! So is this perhaps an attempt to wet fans appetitite for the Avengers? It sounds that way?

          • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 8:04 PM #

            Well we have Thor coming up in May too! It was introduced at the end of the Iron Man 2 movie.

            • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 8:11 PM #

              Ah!! O.k! I forgot about Thor….

  4. Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:34 PM #

    This really explains why the Bourne Identity films are being re-booted and the Matrix as well. Conspiracy films is the way to go?

    • 4string February 10, 2011 at 7:41 PM #

      Why on earth is Bourne being rebooted? Ugh. I’m sick of the reboots. Come up with something original, Hollywood.

      • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:44 PM #

        Hi!! Nice to see u!

        Yes! It’s being rebooted I’m sure because it did well internationally. However, it’s going to be a prequil.

        • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 7:51 PM #

          I was actually surprised at the differences in The DaVinci Code. Better than 3:1 overseas. Pretty impressive.

          • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:58 PM #


  5. Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:41 PM #

    How well do thrillers do overseas? How did the film Phone Booth do internationally?

    • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 7:46 PM #

      Phone Booth did better overseas with 52% of total of 97mil.

      I’m actually anxious to see “the girl with the dragon tattoo” It has a HUGE international book following, is on the top 10 worldwide authors list ‘Steig Larson” –
      So my prediction is it will rock the box office.
      I saw the swedish version with the subtitles and I suspect it will be a huge box office draw in both places if the film turns out with good early critical reviews.

      • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:50 PM #

        Well this film will get an R rating which will cut into it’s box office in the US. I don’t know how u could remake this film and not respect the original story and get a PG-13 rating.

        • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 7:53 PM #

          Sorry! I’m referring to “TGWTDT” film….

          How about thrillers like Paranormal? How well do they do internationally?

          • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 7:56 PM #

            Paranormal activity total was bigger in the U.S. 100mil – only 45% (88mil) from overseas.

            But I heard they had a really really small budget.
            So…that might have been a terrific profit margin for them.
            But the trend is the wrong way.

            • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 8:06 PM #

              Well I was just wondering if thrillers were a popular genre in the US and overseas? I mean “Let the right one in” was a swedish film so I guess it’s safe to assume Thriller/Horror films are a universal genre.

              • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 8:09 PM #

                You have any other suggestions I can look up?
                I was looking over top 10 lists from 2000-2010 and then some films I personally recalled.

                • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 8:14 PM #

                  Well they did a remake of the swedish film here in the US it was released last year. It did not do very well I don’t think. It was called “Let me In.”

                  • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 8:16 PM #

                    Let me in made only $12 mil in the US and it says only $1 mil overseas.
                    I’d say it failed.

                    • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 8:18 PM #

                      Yikes!!! Ouch!

                  • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 8:19 PM #

                    Here’s one from last year.
                    Shutter Island – 58% overseas – a respectable $168mil

                    Overall $296 mil

                    • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 8:22 PM #

                      Not bad! I think the budget was low too.

        • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 7:53 PM #

          So – it might then follow the trend where it has a bigger viewing audience overseas. I’ll have to watch out and see if my prediction holds!

          • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 8:21 PM #

            Well again!! This was a very informative article!!

            It explains why American actors have there work cut out for them. Wow!!

            • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 8:23 PM #

              I agree! It was an eye opener for me!
              Glad you found it informative!

              • Open Book February 10, 2011 at 8:26 PM #

                Yep!! Well I’m signing off.

                Have a good night everyone!!

          • Comic Relief February 10, 2011 at 8:41 PM #

            See you later. …nice talking with you.

            • Lurker February 10, 2011 at 8:43 PM #

              You as well! Thanks for joining!

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