Every four years, the world tunes into the World Cup — or at least the most soccer-loving nations do, including pretty much all of Europe and Latin America. As with other major sporting events, this provides a long-lead challenge to distributors with regards to scheduling and counterprogramming at the international box office.
With World Cup 2018 kicking off in Russia today, and almost half of the globe’s 7.6B population expected to tune in throughout the tournament, there are some interesting big screen configurations in the weeks ahead.
The dinosaur in the room is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom which Universal smartly got off and stomping in the key European majors well ahead, partly in an effort to rack up play before eyeballs are glued to the pitch. This year, versus 2014 when the tournament was in Brazil, is somewhat thorny as Russia is just an hour ahead of the continent (two ahead of the UK).
JW2 started its run with $151M internationally last weekend and by the time it gets to Latin America on June 22, the World Cup will be out of the Group Stage, thus there will be fewer games and a large swath of the overseas box office will have been collected – including in China where it bows tomorrow.
It’s been estimated that in the major European markets like Germany, France and Spain, box office can be down by about 50%-60% if the home team is playing, and about 20% if they’re not. But it’s difficult to pin down exact stats as it also depends at what point during the tournament the games are being played.
Overall, an event picture like JW2 is somewhat World Cup-proof, however. That goes for big animation/family fare as well. One international distribution exec thinks it’s a “bold move” for Disney to have scheduled Pixar’s The Incredibles 2 in Russia on the same weekend that the soccer starts in the host country. It’s also being referred to as a “smart play” given piracy is a concern there. And, it’s tied into school holidays.
The highly-anticipated film, which Disney previewed at CineEurope last night, will also go this weekend in Mexico and parts of Latin America as it continues a staggered release pattern (Germany is going at the end of July, although this is typical on a summer Pixar movie). Dis did a similar rollout on Toy Story 3 during the 2010 World Cup, and that certainly worked out.
Along with mega-event and family pictures, the types of films that work the best as counterprogramming during a big sporting event tend to skew female (see 2010’s Sex And The City 2 which ran during the soccer and despite rotten reviews dwarfed the domestic take by nearly $100M), as well as horror, YA and titles for older audiences. However, one distribution exec cautions, “There are certain genres that work and some that don’t historically. But the landscape and demos are changing.”
Still, looking back to 2014, Fox, for its part, made the savvy move to push The Fault In Our Stars out in Brazil during the World Cup. Brazil, the cradle of the Beautiful Game and the host that year, had a big fan base for the book. And it paid off with a $31M+ gross, the biggest of any outside North America. (TFIOS star Shailene Woodley is currently in STX’s adventure/romance Adrift which is being released throughout World Cup 2018.)
Following the TFIOS experience, Fox this year held back Love, Simon for some Euro majors with France, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Scandinavia all going before the end of June. A rival studio exec pegged this film early on as one to watch. Fox’s President of International Distribution, Andrew Cripps says there was a deliberate and strategic move to release in Europe during this period. It gave Fox time to do more screening programs and grassroots level marketing. “We’re hopeful we can do a decent level of business. Not all on weekend one, but that’s the beauty of the World Cup. Sure, you suffer when the national team plays, but there are a lot of other nights.”
Although it skews both male and female, Warner Bros’ Ocean’s 8 is also wisely out ahead of the soccer and playing through. It opened domestically to a franchise best last weekend and started rollout in a few markets internationally while expanding in Europe and Asia this frame. Ocean’s rollout is a matter of competitive dating on the general release calendar, but also should counterprogram to the soccer, particularly in Europe. (Japan and Korea have teams in the mix, but Asia will be less affected by play given the time difference.)
Of course, there’s no way to know for sure which teams will advance, but when a home side is playing it takes a bite out of box office on the given day. This, however, can be made up on other evenings — or middays as the case may be. In a country where a team is plowing through, though, there can also be an overall effect that sees football literally take over the collective consciousness of a nation. A recent example is 1998’s World Cup, which saw host country France go all the way through to win the championship. At the time, even non-footie fans became obsessed. It also creates a desire to watch the other matches to see who the next adversary will be.
For the particularly soccer-mad nations like Spain, Brazil or the UK, distributors will keep watch on how the teams advance throughout play. And they factor in that turnstile traffic will be impacted on those game days/nights. The hope is that on the off days box office will balance out. In other words, it’s better to look at the run of the film as opposed to specific days if the dating has been strategic enough.
Should Germany’s defending champs Die Mannschaft advance however, it will not be good for box office in a market that is already 18% down this year. Many movies are staying out of Germany until after the event.
Cineworld boss Mooky Greidinger says overall there’s always a chicken and egg debate. “Are we moving product away (from major sporting events) and this is why we perform lower? Or is it the games that are taking away business?”
That’s a question some are mulling when it comes to Italy. To great astonishment, Gil Azzurri are not in this World Cup, but there are almost no major titles being released throughout the month-long tournament there. Warner Bros’ Tag, which it screened here at CineEurope in Barcelona, releases July 5, as does Universal/Blumhouse’s The First Purge, both in a counterprogramming move. Italy in general, however, is difficult to program during the summer and it will be interesting to see if distributors begin to step up with bolder moves in the market going forward.
Tag also releases elsewhere throughout the World Cup, as does The First Purge in early July in the key European majors. Among other movies to keep an eye on that have dates during the footie are Sony’s adult-skewing R-rated Sicario 2 which begins rollout mid-play and Disney/Marvel’s Ant-Man And The Wasp which starts staggered in early July and — should be teflon. It’s following a similar frame to last year’s Sony/Marvel Spider-Man: Homecoming while 2014’s Guardians Of The Galaxy released post-tournament.