While this weekend saw a pre-Halloween bloodbath at the domestic box office, activity in international markets was less fear-inducing. This weekend was a last bastion beachfront where films had a chance to motor ahead before James Bond and Spectre take center stage. That led to some intriguing developments — but not all of them were good. Going forward, the 007 movie opened in previews last night with a stirring $6.4M in the U.K. There will be one more week of play before other films encounter Bond.
One movie that suffered the past weekend in the U.S. – Paramount’s Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension – had better fortunes offshore where it didn’t have the weight of the studio’s VOD experiment to hamper it. Internationally, the found footage franchise broke records, while another comer, The Last Witch Hunter proved Vin Diesel is hardly automatic when not behind the wheel of a muscle car. Meanwhile, in holdovers, there’s an otherworldly phenomenon happening in Korea where The Martian and The Intern have played to audiences’ minds — and won their hearts. That’s the overview, now let’s break it down, movie by movie:
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension $17.9M/33 markets
The 6th movie in Paramount and Blumhouse’s Paranormal Activity series scared up a solid $17.9M in 33 international markets. That’s off-balance when compared to the domestic release which delivered $8.2M at 1,656 theaters. In the U.S., Paramount was experimenting with an accelerated plan that will put the film on VOD 17 days after it falls below 300 runs. That rollout did not affect international. It would be nigh on impossible to platform a film in the same way across so many territories with vastly different regulated windows requiring a market-by-market fine-toothed comb. In France, for example, there is a 36-month delay between theatrical and VOD – something which has dogged Netflix locally.
The first three low-budgeted Paranormal movies (this one in the mid-teens) went from strength to offshore strength, each one gaining on the previous box office, rising from $88.7M on 2009’s original to $103M for 2011’s 3rd installment. 2012’s Paranormal Activity 4 was off about 14% from its predecessor internationally while it halved its take domestically. Last year’s The Marked Ones was the lowest of all the franchise both at home and abroad, opening internationally in 13 markets to $16.2M and ending up at $58M overseas.
The Ghost Dimension bowed in a bigger suite than The Marked Ones with 33 markets, smartly getting out while kids are on vacation and before Bond comes to suck out a lot of air. While it came in slightly lower than The Marked Ones in some of the powerhouse plays like the UK (-7%), France (-9%), Germany (-16%) and Russia (-9%), it made up serious ground in Latin America. There, the one-sheets, TV spots and online marketing emphasized the spiritual elements of the film — and 3D, a first for the series. In total, 3D was 72% of this weekend’s business overseas. Franchise records were set in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Peru. With 10 more markets to hit next frame, including Argentina, Venezuela, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, this one could be up as much as 10% versus The Marked Ones. Is Ghost Dimension truly the last in the series?
The Last Witch Hunter $13.45M/53 markets
Vin Diesel’s latest foray outside a tentpole franchise still has a chance to add some fuel in major action markets where it’s yet to bow. But watchers are not bullish on the future. Some also believe foreign distributors will think twice the next time Diesel, a huge star when behind the wheel of a Fast & Furious film, tries to step off the beaten track. Some international execs, however, point to Riddick which made about $58M offshore in 2013 on a smaller budget and Babylon AD which did $50M in 2008. Diesel worked the room for Witch Hunter via his huge social media following and continues to do so, touting via Instagram the film’s No. 1s this weekend in 23 markets out of 53.
The film did not perform in the two major Western European markets where it opened: the UK and Germany. It’s fair to say those are both extremely competitive right now – especially Germany where local films have recently excelled and there’s a love affair with Inside Out. And, it was important, again, to get out in front of Bond in the UK. However, the Asian markets of Singapore and Malaysia took to the teeth with $5.9M there. That’s a huge result, although, as categorized by a European distrib today, they’re all about the “bing, bang, boom.” Rival distributors think the lackluster U.S. performance coupled with difficult openings in these major markets could dampen appetites elsewhere.
Lionsgate mitigates its risk on these movies, selling off foreign markets and maintaining output deals with many of the offshore mini-majors. One European distrib with knowledge of the deals tells me that they wouldn’t expect local distributors to change their release strategy based on initial performance because they are already deeply engaged – up to three months in advance. When a movie doesn’t leap out of the box Stateside, the international partners have essentially one recourse which is to cut TV spend. In France, for example, that can’t happen because TV advertising for films is not allowed by law. Regardless, partners, I’m told, enjoy highs and lows. There “will be errors, but there are also big movies.” So for every Last Witch Hunter, which exhibitors are still keen to have given Diesel’s marquee status, there is a Hunger Games or a Now You See Me.
Now on to Korea. This is normally considered a fast-burn market, but the past few years have turned up exceptions that are fascinating. Korea is one of the global markets that has the strongest local industries and this year has proven itself with films I’ve written about before like Veteran and Assassination. But Fox has had two major hits in the market. Kingsman: The Secret Service at No.6 for the year is certainly impressive, but it’s Fox’s The Martian that continues a notable trend here. Gravity made $28M in one of the biggest offshore plays for the film; and last year Interstellar skyrocketed to over $70M. At the time, we laid it down as Korean audiences being particularly involved in sci-fi+emotion. That’s not been lost on The Martian. It won’t hit the numbers that Interstellar did, but it’s had an astronomical run in Korea with over $27M thus far on its way to a potential $40M – big considering some strong local titles. But, also taking up space is The Intern.
The Nancy Meyers comedy continues to hold near the top of the pack and has taken over $22M to date. Korea can be funny that way. This is a super sophisticated market that has its own industry but when it hooks into a particular movie it gives its all. Recall Universal’s About Time in 2012, a Richard Curtis movie basically left for dead elsewhere. It made $18M+ in Korea, landing in the same grouping as Thor: The Dark World.
Watchers say that The Intern star Anne Hathaway has something to do with the southeast Asian furor – Les Mis was a huge hit in Korea – but also helmer Meyers, a taste for sophisticated fare and the positive, cerebral vibes. A rival distrib said, “It’s become a good counterprogrammer; perfect for what’s out there.”