EXCLUSIVE: On its way to $200 million worldwide, Bridget Jones’s Baby has become the biggest movie of 2016 in the UK with £46.27M through Monday — passing The Jungle Book‘s £46.2M in under seven weeks. It was already the biggest romantic comedy of all time there, topping Bridget Jones’s Diary‘s £42M. And, it sits behind The Full Monty as the No. 2 comedy ever. In all, and in dollars, this baby has grown to a strapping $193M in worldwide box office since starting offshore rollout on September 14. The grand majority of that — $169M so far — comes from overseas with little help from domestic.
But here’s a point to consider: North America as “domestic” is something of a misnomer on this film whose home market really could be seen as the UK. And while records continue to fall in Britain, it’s not the only offshore play where the Universal Pictures, Miramax and Studiocanal presentation of Working Title’s threequel has found a bundle of joy. (Universal is releasing in most territories with Studiocanal handling France, Germany and Austria.)
Directed by the original’s Sharon Maguire, the movie still has offshore releases to come and carries a roughly $40M price tag. So while the U.S./Canada performance is disappointing — laboring to get to $24M — the film will be profitable.
Still, what is it about the Renée Zellweger-starring return that has offshore audiences flocking to the pic even outside her native Britain — and North Americans holding back the cigars?
Working Title Co-Chairman Eric Fellner offers that the 12-year lag time between Bridget movies may have been a factor. The last film did $40M in the U.S. and this one, Fellner allows, “maybe wasn’t white-hot enough to catch fire other than with the constituent audience.”
A U.S.-based exec who is not involved with the film suggests that at opening “Sully just crushed it domestically and that seemed to be a factor even though (Bridget) did get strong reviews.” This person agrees with part of Fellner’s assessment, “I think that coming 15 years after the original and 12 after the sequel was perhaps just too long of a wait here for people to care as much.”
Reviews were indeed strong on the movie at 77% fresh. Fellner admits to being a bit mystified by the U.S. reaction, but says, “Either you’re a hit or you’re not. There’s not a lot of middle ground anymore.”
Says Universal Pictures International President of Distribution Duncan Clark: “As early as script development here in London, we all had great optimism about Bridget and that was confirmed when we saw the very first cut. From there the filmmakers made it a really good show and our marketing team did a brilliant job mounting a superb campaign.”
The stars were a big part of the sell. Zellweger, Colin Firth and franchise newcomer Patrick Dempsey traveled to a mix of Spain, France, Germany and Japan, as well as doing promotion in the UK and the U.S. Fellner notes that in a twist, the paparazzi may have helped in the UK. Shutterbugs who stalked the shooting locations around London, “created a hit mentality long before the movie come out. Renée was on the front of every paper all the time.”
Clark concurs, “From the get-go, we have had enormous support from Renée, Patrick, Colin, Sharon, (producer) Debra (Hayward) and Eric all the way through to our most recent release in Japan last week. Our results have been outstanding, particularly the UK and Holland, but in general, it has been great and we are very proud. It is disappointing we could not crack the U.S. — but if our marketing team there could not get it away, then nobody could.”
The film played to sold-out shows in Britain and dominated the market at open, then held No. 1 for three weeks. It is Working Title’s biggest movie ever there, the biggest September release and the sixth-highest Universal release.
The UK was the top international hub on the previous two films and this one has surpassed them in local currency. Baby would have already amassed well north of its nearly $60M current conversion to overtake those films in dollars in the UK were it not for Brexit and the severe pound drop since June. (It’s difficult to compare the previous two films’ overall offshore hauls to today’s given currency fluctuations. Bridget Jones’s Diary made $210M in 2001 figures, but restated today that would be $237.9M. Edge Of Reason did $222M in 2004, while restated that would be $184.1M.)
Still, scoring big outside North America isn’t a new phenomenon for Working Title which recently became the only company outside the studios to cross $1B at the UK box office. Notting Hill did 68% of its business offshore; Mr Bean’s Holiday grossed nearly $200M overseas vs $33M in North America; Four Weddings And A Funeral likewise was a roughly 80%/20% split as was Love Actually. Edge Of Reason and Bridget Jones’s Diary also skewed higher internationally, although the current film has the widest divide.
“We’re used to it,” says Fellner. “We often find that the UK is the lead with a huge number.” Interestingly, he notes that in the days before WT movies went through Universal, “We would create a control sheet for financials and often we would put in zero for North America in terms of expected revenue and to determine if it was still worth it; and often it was.”
This was about 17 years ago and “doesn’t mean one doesn’t want to do well” in the world’s biggest box office playground, Fellner explains. “We want to do well there, but it’s not always our primary market.”
Other markets to have performed outstandingly on BJB include Australia with about $13M, France at $11.7M and the Netherlands, where it became the biggest WT movie ever in mid-October — breaking a record held by Notting Hill for 17 years. It’s now at over $10M there. After five weeks in release, it became the No. 1 movie of 2016 in the Republic of Ireland.
Fellner continues, “We’ve all been doing this a long time and you have to grab the wins celebrate them and not get too despondent if they don’t work. We are thrilled and proud of this movie, especially given it’s a threequel. We adore and love the character and she’s very much a part of the Working Title DNA.”
Whether or not there will be a fourquel remains unclear — one would certainly seem viable in the UK and other overseas majors. China could be a next stop for the franchise, however. “We’ve been inundated with requests to remake the original, which would suggest real awareness of the film even though it was never released there,” Fellner says.
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