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 . 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 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 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!