fast five

Who in the World is Buying Movie Tickets?

Fast Five
Vin Diesel and Elsa Pataky in Fast Five, filmed in Brazil | Universal

This month, The Atlantic captured my attention with a world-movie-biz infographic, which notes that 70 percent of Hollywood revenue comes from outside the United States.

So what is Hollywood doing to maximize that international audience? According to the infographic, they’re doing some obvious stuff and some rather surprising stuff.

The Obvious: 

  • Set the film in a country like Brazil, the ever-expanding market where the high-grossing Fast Five and Rio were filmed. (Love that one, since  I write about movies that influence travel at A Traveler’s Library.)
  • Cast foreign nationals as co-stars or voices in animated movies.
  • Release and preview movies in hot markets internationally, like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in Dubai and Tintin in Europe. Here, Tom Cruise and the Ghost Protocol cast discuss opening their film in Dubai.

The Rather Surprising: 

  • Don’t bite the hand that buys the ticket. The not-yet-released Red Dawn‘s Chinese villains were changed to North Korean so as not to insult the huge audience in China.
  • Make lots of 3-D films for Russia, Brazil and China, where 40 percent of box office sales were from 3-D films (vs. 20 percent in the U.S.)
  • Expand the peripheral market — as in TOYS.  Cars 2 introduced new foreign characters and cars.

But most surprising to me is why spread the effort so thin? Yeah, TOTAL foreign markets are 70 percent, but when you break it down to individual countries, the U.S. has 30.4 percent of the worldwide market, and the individual country that comes closest to that percent of ticket sales is Japan at 7.9 percent.  Pandering to say, Brazil or  Mexico in a movie is only reaching slightly more than 2 percent of the world market in each case.

So while I’m delighted to see more movies with foreign locations that will draw travelers, American  filmmakers can’t afford to forget their major audience — right here in their own backyard. And I must admit, I find it rather creepy that the ethnicity of the bad guys has to be changed for market purposes.

What are your thoughts on this? Yes, filmmakers need to consider the bottom line, but are they going too far with the toys, 3D films, and re-working characters like the above-mentioned North Korean villains?  Is it affecting the quality of the films? 


23 responses to “Who in the World is Buying Movie Tickets?”

  1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

    During a forum with Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant at the Friars Club Comedy Film Festival last fall, they talked about this. It’s the reason why you almost never see a Christmas film anymore. Nothing can be so specific that it can’t play across cultures. They said that even though audiences in Asia, for example, might not know the Theodore Roosevelt character in “Night at the Museum,” at least he has a funny moustache! The costs of studio films have escalated to such a degree, apparently, that the 30.4 percent share that the U.S. represents isn’t enough to recoup. Lennon and Garant said that it’s only starting a little bit, but studios are beginning to see the need for smaller, niche films. This, of course, will be good news for filmmakers and audiences if it really comes to pass with any regularity. God forbid that everything should have to be a big 3D blockbuster.

    1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

      And as to your question regarding whether pandering affects the quality of films, how can it not?

      1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

        Totally. If people could make the films they wanted and write the books they wanted, the world would be a better place. Well, maybe… You never know what might come out of some people.

    2. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      *studios are beginning to see the need for smaller, niche films*

      Thank goodness! That makes me happy.

  2. Alexandra Avatar

    I prefer a good non-commercial film any day. Two come to mind. Detachment, with Adrian Brody, which makes a statement about American schools today, and a French film I just saw, although it came out a couple years ago. Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life. Have you seen it? With my husband, we have been debating whether anyone who is not familiar with Serge Gainsbourg’s work would appreciate it as much. Finally, I decided not as much, perhaps, but the acting by man who plays the lead is so incredible, that yes, I’ve decided to recommend it to my friends outside France.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Loved your piece on Serge Gainsbourg! I haven’t seen Detachment – will put that on the list.

  3. Sara Lancaster Avatar

    I don’t know enough to say whether or not these efforts impact the quality of film. But I think the whole concept is interesting. In the end, the movies are usually about the bottom line. Story comes second. Lucky for us, the stories are usually still good anyway!

  4. Connie Avatar

    my husband and I were laughing about changing the ethnicity of the villian…I mean it is a movie for crying out loud– it is supposed to be fantasy– why are people getting offended….I don’t mind when they insert foreign countries or foreigners in a movie…BUT what I cannot stand is when they make HUGE mistakes (inotherwords they haven’t done their homework)– one silly movie…can’t even remember the name…it was one of those spoof type movies….had the prime minister of Malaysia being a CHINESE…HELLO?????? when hell freezes over maybe that would ever happen!! ha ha!!

    1. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

      Melanie’s comment got me thinking. Isn’t it ironic that in the day of World Wide Web, International Trade, the European Union and other borders dropping all over the place, popular trends are going local and niche. Broadly based magazines are failing while new magazines for regions, cities, or very specific audiences are thriving. Big newspapers struggle while small town newspapers blossom. Target is running ads bragging about sourcing from small local stores. All of which makes it totally logical that movies should move away from mega-hits that try to please the whole world to narrowly targeted “small” movies.

      1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

        I know that so many times, the small independent films are the ones that end up making a big splash. And it’s because they strike a chord with viewers and tug at our heartstrings. The problem is that they often only get a limited release because the big theaters like Carmike and Cinemark don’t want to take a chance on them. Something’s backwards.

  5. Peggy Noonan (not the famous one) Avatar

    What a fascinating article. No wonder so many films have that same-same quality about them, almost to the point of by-the-minute formula. It seems to me this same factor — marketing driving content — is behind the loss of individuality and unique voice we’ve seen in so many magazines…pick up any individual magazine in a given genre and compare it to any other five in the same category, and it’s hard to see any difference. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

      Peggy: And everybody. I hope you looked at the Atlantic infographic. It’s much more detailed than my quick synopsis. and Peggy, yes, I agree, trying to please everyone generally pleases no one.

    2. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      It really does make you wonder if everything will eventually be clones of something else. I mean, we can kind of see things heading that way. Scary.

  6. MyKidsEatSquid Avatar

    I’m just thrilled that the current blockbuster–The Avengers–was filmed in my neck of the woods. Cleveland!

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Oh cool! I guess I didn’t realize that.

  7. Alisa Bowman Avatar

    Also it must change the creative process to constantly be thinking about selling the movie v making it.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      I would think so, too. It’s like when we’re writing a piece or book and worrying about whether it’ll be marketable. Kind of takes the fun out of it.

  8. Jeanine Barone Avatar

    I watch just about everything, from the blockbusters to indie films. And my preference is often indie movies, especially very low-budget ones filmed in the U.S. I have a feature-length script that I wrote and am hoping to have it shot here in New York.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Can’t wait, Jeanine.

  9. sarah henry Avatar

    No more Christmas movies because they don’t play across cultures…who knew?

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Yeah, that’s an interesting take. And it makes you think about all the things that are based in one culture – will they eventually be replaced by global diversity? I hope not. To me, one of the best things about watching movies is learning about other cultures and ways of doing things.

  10. The Writer's [Inner] Journey Avatar

    Fascinating, really. I still go for the character-driven movie, and not necessarily the big-budget kind.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Same here. Sometimes it’s fun to see a big special effects blockbuster – loved Battleship and The Avengers – but even those movies had some good characters and stories.

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