The Expendables 3 is debuting this weekend in 40 territories including Russia, the UK, Mexico and Australia -- and features a powerhouse ensemble that includes Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer and Kellan Lutz.
Together, the cast outweighs the sum of its parts, but the parts are actually quite interesting when looked at in terms of international box-office drawing power, especially in mega markets like China, Korea, Russia, Brazil, and parts of Western Europe. Below, I’ve broken out numbers for some of the individual stars across those markets with a nifty slideshow that covers their last three major titles outside the franchise in these key territories.* The first Expendables film did about $274M worldwide, with $171M from overseas. In an unusual turn of events for a sequel, the franchise's second film saw its earnings drop in the U.S., although this has been attributed to the release coming just after the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings, which severely depressed late-night showings -- typically a bedrock for R-rated movies. Conversely, international grosses rose for Expendables 2, to over $220M. The biggest markets for Exp2 overseas were China ($53.1M), Russia ($17.9M), Brazil ($16.3M), France ($15.7M), Germany ($11.3M), Mexico ($10.6M), the UK ($9.9M), Japan ($9.6M), Australia ($8.7M) and Spain ($7M).
Normally, it would be expected that the latest outing for the gang and its new recruits would continue the upward trend abroad – but a question remains over the impact of the film's online leak, which has resulted in around 5M downloads. However, the switch to a PG-13 rating will open up prospects with “kids who snuck into the other movies now able to go in on their own,” says a watcher. That’ll be especially important in countries like Brazil and certain parts of Europe where moviegoing is a family experience.
During a massive publicity stunt organized by Millennium Films at the Cannes Film Festival in May, Stallone said, “We want to reach as many people as possible. It’s very close to an R, believe me, it’s right there. But I think we owe it to the next generation. We thought we’d join that club for a while.” Another part of the draw is the brand, which has huge recognition overseas. Arguably, the biggest aspect of that brand is Stallone, who created the franchise and keeps it rolling along. Returning with him are Schwarzenegger, Statham, Lundgren and Li. The added muscle brought by iconic newcomers like Ford, Gibson and Banderas should increase play for those curious to see such a group amassed in one film. And, the notable younger additions of Lutz and current UFC Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey, are expected to up interest for audiences abroad.
Each actor, aside from Rousey, who’s making her feature debut, has their own historical international imprint from individual films and franchises. Among the younger generation, Lutz will be most recognizable to audiences from his work in the hugely successful Twilight movies and, more recently, The Legend Of Hercules. Lutz’s last three major releases, Hercules, Tarzan and the final Twilight installment, Breaking Dawn Part 2, grossed a cumulative $287M across the major markets cited above and based on individual figures provided by Rentrak.
But Breaking Dawn 2 wasn’t released in China, as the series gained little traction there. Likely the best known Expendables star on the Chinese front is Beijing-born Li, who has been in the previous two installments. The first earned $31M in China in 2010 and the second was good for $53M. Li’s most recent non-Exp pics are Badges Of Fury, The Sorcerer And The White Snake and The Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate. Together they’ve cumed over $165M in China alone. (Expendables newbie Kelsey Grammer is perhaps better known than ever in China with roles this year in blockbusters Transformers: Age Of Extinction and X-Men: Days Of Future Past.)
Outside the first two Expendables movies, Jason Statham has a following in China with three of his recent films, Homefront, Redemption and Fast & Furious 6 cuming $77.46M. Notably, it was Statham who went on a promotional tour for Exp3 this month in Beijing, where it’s expected to bow on Aug. 20. For his part, Ford’s Ender’s Game, a disappointment elsewhere, earned $22.89M in China. Stallone and Schwarzenegger also drew auds for Escape Plan, which grossed $41.3M in the Middle Kingdom. But Schwarzenegger drew only $8M there in The Last Stand, his first solo outing after leaving Sacramento. Sly’s Bullet To The Head was a soft $2.07M earner in China.
Outside China, and the Exp franchise, Stallone’s latest films have tended to show more strength in Russia than elsewhere. That's unsurprising given the penchant for action films that open massively there (Exp2 did over $8M in its debut weekend in 2012). Grudge Match had a $2.82M cume there in 2013.
Teaming with Schwarzenegger in Escape Plan, the pair grossed nearly $7M in Russia versus a European high of $4.58M in the UK among the markets we examined. On his own in The Last Stand, the Governator was powerful in Russia with about $2.8M, and fared least well in Korea, despite the movie being helmed by local filmmaker Kim Jee-woon.
Lutz and Statham have had the most recent successes in Russia with $53.24M and $38.1M cumes respectively across their last three big releases. Those include Breaking Dawn 2 in which Lutz was part of the ensemble, his voice/stunt work in Tarzan; and Fast & Furious 6 in which Statham was uncredited (it also includes 2013's Redemption, although Statham's card below reflects the same year's Parker for which more overall numbers were available). Russia was also the top market for Lutz’s Tarzan at $5.6M. In a rarity for a film that nabbed a China release, Lutz’s The Legend Of Hercules was stronger in Russia with $4.73M compared to $4.18M in China.
Statham’s Homefront, which also released in China, fared better in France by a notch with $5.52M versus $5.37M in the Middle Kingdom. Statham consistently performs in France where he's closely associated with the Luc Besson-produced Transporter film series.
Machete Kills, with both Gibson and Banderas, fared best in Russia with $2.59M; the underperformer on that film per our numbers was the UK with just $507K.
According to our data, Lutz has the strongest recent performances in Korea of any of the main Exp3 cast with $23.19M across his last three films. That could be good news for Exp3 since the market did not figure in the Top 10 overseas for the last installment. One supposition on that is that the strength of the local market bites into straight actioners that aren't superhero- or sci-fi-driven.
Brazil was the third-best market for the last Exp at $16.3M. and, eliminating the two franchise movies for Lutz and Statham, the main Expendables 3 cast tends to hover in the same low six- to low seven-figure box office ballpark in that market. In a twist, Gibson’s Get The Gringo captured $1.04M in Brazil, far outpacing Russia’s $775K.
There are a couple of wild cards in the mix for this Expendables including the untested Rousey; the rise of fast-burn international markets like China, Russia and Korea compared to 2012 when the last Exp came out; and Gibson. The controversial actor hasn’t appeared in a major international release in some time, apart from 2013 genre pic Machete Kills. When the Exp3 gang all came to Cannes in May, Gibson yukked it up with the rest of them and there was no whiff of worry. Au contraire, Gibson’s recent past is “irrelevant overseas. They don’t care at all. He’s super cool” to international auds, says a person who was at the Cannes event. His The Beaver was embraced in France more so than elsewhere with $1.65M – helped along by its debut at that festival in 2011.
The shameless (and fun) Cannes spectacle that had the Exp3 crew riding tanks down the Croisette was designed especially to ramp up the international profile. The photo ops certainly did the trick. With no other major new competition in the markets this weekend, but some strong holdover contenders in place, we’ll see if the strategy sticks.
(*Below is a slide show for some of the most prominent Exp3 cast members and the performance of their last three major releases in seven key overseas markets. Not every film was released in each, and titles with only a few markets were not included in all cases. Also, Li's numbers are China only. Still, we hope this slide show provides an interesting snapshot. The source for all box office data used here is Rentrak.)