While domestic ticket sales were down in 2017, the gross international box office is estimated to be up 5.1% to $28.8B. This comes after 2016 saw a 1.44% dip from the 2015 boom year that had included Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Furious 7, Jurassic World and more. There are a couple of factors helping goose this year, not the least of which is China and the inclusion of a new online ticketing fee that’s factored into grosses. But speaking with international-minded executives as 2017 drew to a close, one sentiment that emerged is that overseas moviegoing is ripe for expansion, despite the proliferation of distractions.
To be sure, there’s concern about the rise of Netflix, et al. And the seismic tie-up of Disney and Fox — there are only so many good dates in a year, after all. But overseas execs don’t warn of drama, yet. Instead folks are bullish on untapped audiences in China and South East Asian markets as well as the pending introduction of cinemas to Saudi Arabia (see below the chart for more).
Exhibition clearly plays a major role in providing a memorable experience to entice people out for an evening, and we can expect to see more consolidation in the sector in 2018.
Still, while international is a larger piece of the pie than ever, there are films that even foreign audiences can’t save. “There were so many disappointing movies” in terms of quality this year, laments an exec. “That’s what’s going to kill the business, if they don’t take time to fix them.” This person contends, “February and March were great” with pics like Logan, Kong: Skull Island and Beauty And The Beast, “followed by the disappointing Ghost In The Shell, for example.”
Another topic on execs’ minds is the risk of a summer glut again this year with a packed June and July, as well as the World Cup which will play from June 14-July 15. One person says fixing global dates has become like arm-wrestling. August can actually work better internationally than domestic since kids in the U.S. head back to school much earlier than elsewhere. But with so much about day-and-date, it’s hard to hold off until August. This will be a space to watch in the future.
As will 2019 and 2020 which folks are sizing up to be massive — if they collapse, then there will need to be a rethink.
Meanwhile, regarding currency shifts, Sony President of International Distribution Steven O’Dell says, “All numbers last year were depressed in part by a strong dollar and are starting to climb back. However, we are a long way off from when the pound was 1:2, the ruble was 30:1, the Mexican peso was 11:1 and the Real was at 1.6:1. That being said, there is still growth, particularly in Latin America, where the entertainment culture is built around the cinema experience. Mexico’s annual admissions are among the very highest in the world.”
Here’s a look at 2017/2018 studio highlights (chart below):
We noted last year that if there was one area where Disney could grow its arsenal, it would be the Chinese performance of Pixar titles. This year’s Coco is a beat in that direction with the film besting all previous movies from the brand, and even being granted a rare extension of its Middle Kingdom run which had made over $173M through December 31. Next up from Pixar is The Incredibles 2. Although the first film doesn’t figure historically in China, Coco‘s success should help set up the Incredibles sequel. Coco will have been the last experience local auds had with the Pixar brand — and superhero movies over-index in the PROC.
Coming in 2018, Disney also has Black Panther, A Wrinkle In Time, Avengers: Infinity War, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Ant-Man And The Wasp, The Nutcracker And The Four Realms, Wreck-It-Ralph II and Mary Poppins Returns among others — all before it swallows Fox.
Dunkirk’s dating in July was at first glance a head-scratcher: a WWII drama set in the middle of popcorn play. But the bet paid off with $526M worldwide and $337M from overseas. A non-WB exec calls Dunkirk “a reason why you have to go to the cinema,” but cautions the July date was a risk. “If Valerian had been good, it would have been a greater challenge for Dunkirk in that window.”
IT was a bona fide hit in the horror realm which over-indexed overseas this year. The $35M Stephen King adaptation got to over $370M abroad — without the benefit of a China release.
On WB’s deck in 2018 are Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald; the Tomb Raider reboot; Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One; Rampage with Dwayne Johnson; and prehistoric shark movie The Meg with Middle Kingdom catnip Jason Statham. Later in 2018, the James Wan-directed Aquaman will dive into some high-priced real estate, taking over the Christmas slot that has been home to Star Wars in the past three years.
The studio is also releasing the all-female Ocean’s 8 in June as a bet on counterprogramming against the World Cup.
The studio’s partnership with Illumination paid off again in 2017 with Despicable Me 3 crossing $1B worldwide ($1.03B) and grossing $769M internationally as Chris Meledandri’s outfit continues to churn out hits with a thrifty pricetag.
Another lucrative partnership, with Jason Blum’s Blumhouse, resulted in micro-budget hits Split, Get Out and Happy Death Day. Each crossed milestones, and the latter has been given a China release date on February 2 — the only Blumhouse title to ever score a slot. It was indeed a good year to be in the horror business overseas.
Coming up for 2018 are the return of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades Freed which will push the franchise over the $1B mark globally; Pacific Rim: Uprising from Legendary; the same partner’s Skyscraper with Dwayne Johnson — the latter two expected to find strong China response — June’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the follow-up to 2015’s $1.67B grosser and directed by JA Bayona; Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again in July; Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch from Illumination in November; and the Peter Jackson/Fran Walsh-penned Mortal Engines in December.
Among notable breakouts were the R-rated Logan at $395M internationally and the star-studded Murder On The Orient Express which had grossed $226.2M overseas through December 31. That film’s success has been something of a surprise, but has played as terrific counterprogramming throughout the winter. The UK seems like an obvious play for this one (and it was) but Italy also went bananas for it.
Which brings us to War For The Planet Of The Apes. The critically praised yet dark pic did 70% of its business overseas, for about $344M — including more than $112M in China (although it fell short of the previous pic). Fox Searchlight, meanwhile, had a great festival run and has awards contenders heavily in the mix this season.
On deck to stoke international for the studio in 2018 are the Deadpool sequel and two more X-Men pics, New Mutants and Dark Phoenix, throughout the year; Maze Runner: The Death Cure; Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian spy in Red Sparrow; the James Cameron-produced Alita: Battle Angel in July; and The Predator in August.
After owning the counterprogramming dynamic during the last World Cup with The Fault In Our Stars, Fox has another potential off-pitch breakout in Love Simon. The Greg Berlanti-directed film opens domestically in March but it being held back overseas to slip into some of the football markets.
The studio is coming into 2018 energized by the success of Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle which had grossed $157M overseas through December 31 and $350M through earlier this week. It still has many markets to come online including China. Jumanji, Spider-Man, Trainspotting and Blade Runner represent shots Sony took on older IP this year. The latter was critically acclaimed but topped out at just $167M overseas where it should have done better.
In 2018, Sony will build out the Spider-Man web with December’s animated Into The Spider-Verse. Venom is also gearing up for October starring Tom Hardy. Before that, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation will release in July. The HT movies have seen strong growth overseas.
Mission: Impossible 6 is on deck in late July this year and Transformers spinoff Bumblebee releases at the holidays. Horror title A Quiet Place goes out in April.
Up in 2018, the studio has comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me during the end of World Cup play and a new take on Robin Hood in September, among others.
Worldwide Box Office 2017 Studio Rankings
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The Top 5 offshore markets remained the same in 2017 as they were in 2016, with China leading followed by Japan, the UK, Korea and France.
China howled to a 13.45% increase in 2017, hitting RMB 56B ($8.6B) based on estimates from watchdog SAPPRFT. Leading the charge there was Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior 2 which made RMB 5.68B ($873M — the dollar values reported over the past several months have shifted with the currency). The highly nationalistic action film got an assist from the Russo brothers — a trend we may see more of in the future — and was also goosed (as were all movies in China, imports included) by a roughly 7% online ticketing fee that was incorporated into grosses. Still, even stripping that out, it’s a massive number.
The 18% increase in admissions in China is notable, and reflects the rise in the number of screens which has topped 50K as the lower tier cities continue to build out. For a deeper look at what’s in store for China’s box office in the coming years, see our previous story.
In the rest of the world, it’s important to recall that the increases this year are also reflective of higher ticket prices and expansion in some of the growing markets — roundly cited as South East Asia and the Middle East (the latter an area to certainly keep an eye on given that Saudi Arabia is due to open its cinemas for the first time in over 30 years).
Indonesia is cited by many as an increasingly important market as it becomes more screened; same goes for Malaysia and Vietnam. In the latter, Kong: Skull Island in 2017 became the biggest opening movie ever (to be fair, it shot partly in the market).
Says Sony’s O’Dell, “When you look at how the box office breaks down, most of the box office from the Top 10 (international markets) used to come from Europe. That’s not the case anymore.” Now some South East Asian markets routinely turn up near the top of the charts.
“The audience base,” he continues, “is so potentially big because the population base is staggering in Asia.” And as those on the lower end of the economic range start to become middle class, execs see potential. “The bet is still that region in terms of growth, for all studios.”
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