Paramount’s Baywatch may have beached domestically, but it’s been surfing a wave at the international box office — spurred by the source material’s global popularity, Dwayne Johnson’s star status … and The Hoff. Through Thursday, the Seth Gordon-helmed film is at $98.8M overseas and will cross $100M tomorrow. Domestic is $57.4M.
The big-screen adaptation of the 1990s TV series has collared more than 63% of its total box office from offshore turnstiles, making it the first R-rated summer comedy to take more than half its earnings from overseas since 2015’s Spy ($125M, 53% from the international box office) and Ted 2 ($135M, 62.4% IBO), and before that, 2013’s The Hangover Part III ($250M, 69% IBO).
Looking ahead, Baywatch likely will top out at around $110M. Is that cause enough to generate a sequel to the reported high-$60M-budgeted pic in what Paramount hoped would be a franchise-starter? No. Will the movie be profitable? With ancillary, yes. Does it make the disparate performances of the movie any less interesting? Let’s see.
There are a few key elements mixed into the overseas numbers here.
The source material was at one time the most-watched TV series worldwide with an estimated weekly audience of 1.1 billion viewers in 142 countries. Star David Hasselhoff and his partners rescued the action drama about lifeguards who patrol the beaches of Los Angeles County after NBC canceled it following the first season in 1990. It got a second life thanks to its overseas popularity. When it first aired globally, Baywatch would have been among the only offerings of its kind in territories that had few TV channels, and it provided sun-soaked, bikini-clad escapism that for many would have seemed like the American dream.
Beyond that, the film’s having a piece of the Rock has been key to the bigger spin at foreign ticket counters. Johnson, who can open a movie and keep it going, remains one of the most bankable international stars across all genres and was tireless in promotion. When Baywatch opened to the best numbers for any comedy ever in Mexico, he took to social media to promote that fact and thank local moviegoers. His 2016 R-rated summer comedy Central Intelligence, by comparison, made more than $89M offshore, for about 41% of the gross.
But comedy is hard, and not many translate around the globe. A notable exception is Germany. Combine that with the market’s inherent adoration of the original Baywatch’s Hasselhoff, and it’s not surprising it’s the lead play with $15M and counting. It’s currently the No. 8 movie of 2017 there.
It helps that the multi-hyphenate Hoff is also huge in Austria, where it all started when his 1985 album Night Rocker shot to No. 1, followed by subsequent records and singles. (The Hoff also rose to popularity around the time that the Berlin Wall came down, opening up networks to American programming including the pre-Baywatch Knight Rider.) In its fifth frame of release in Austria, Baywatch was No. 2, dropping only 2% week-over-week.
Paramount knew this going in, even though Hasselhoff appears in just a fraction of the film. A major overseas promotion for Baywatch took place in Berlin with a premiere at the Sony Center, which Hasselhoff attended, and a local beach installation. Fans were besotted — exit polls indicated their thrill at seeing Hasselhoff in the film, even if it’s only briefly.
His enduring popularity in the market has dovetailed with the fact that Hollywood comedies over-index in Germany.
An industry veteran says this is due to a mixture of factors. Comedies that come with R ratings for sex and language in the U.S. generally are given lower barriers to entry in Germany (and elsewhere in Europe). Plus, dubbing in Germany is tops and “they use the dubbed jokes in TV spots the way the French can’t” because France has a restriction on TV advertising for films. Also unlike France (and Italy, for example), Germany doesn’t produce much local comedy (the mega-hit Fack Ju movies notwithstanding) and that creates a niche to fill. Indeed, even some of France’s biggest comedies like Qu’Est-Ce Qu’On A Fait Au Bon Dieu?! And Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’Tis have been huge in the neighbor to the east.
Looking back at other recent R-rated Hollywood pics, the Neighbors films, Bad Moms, Central Intelligence, Sausage Party, Horrible Bosses 2, Ted 2, Tammy, The Heat and the Hangover threesome all have counted Germany among the top plays.
In general, however, Baywatch — excoriated by critics in the U.S. — rode a wave of good will and beachy vibes during an action-packed early summer.