EXCLUSIVE: Universal/Working Title’s Johnny English Strikes Again crossed the $100M mark at the international box office late last week and now has an offshore cume of $108.6M through Sunday. In North America this weekend, the opening was just $1.6M at a limited 554 sites, but the true domestic market on these movies is really the UK. There, the Rowan Atkinson-starrer has taken $18.2M to date. More play is ahead as the movie looks to become the biggest in the franchise overseas. It will also be the first film in the spy spoof series that gets an official theatrical release in China.
Already, this is Universal’s biggest comedy internationally of the past five years, and the biggest studio comedy of 2018 overseas (Uni also has bragging rights to five of the Top 10 studio comedies worldwide over the past five years). The Johnny English franchise itself has now grossed $431M worldwide, with $393M of that from abroad. On a roughly $30M budget, everyone will be a winner on this threequel.
This is not a dissimilar situation to what we saw around the same time of year with Bridget Jones’s Baby in 2016. Also from Working Title, that threequel made nearly 89% of its money at offshore turnstiles. North America was a disappointment, sure, but it didn’t ding the international performance and the movie went on to become the biggest romcom ever in the UK.
Working Title’s Tim Bevan tells me, “The main driver is the UK. The loyalty of our own audiences drives everything. That’s been our model, going back to Four Weddings And A Funeral, that’s what we learnt: If you get a great big gross in the UK, you can drive it into foreign.”
Johnny English Strikes Again sees Atkinson’s accidental secret agent called out of retirement when a cyber-attack reveals the identity of all active undercover agents in Britain. Johnny must dive head-first into action to find the mastermind hacker — and overcome the challenges of modern technology to do so. Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy and Emma Thompson also star in the feature directing debut of David Kerr from a script by William Davies. Working Title’s Bevan and Eric Fellner produce, joined again by Chris Clark.
Since beginning offshore rollout in mid-September, the bumbling anti-007 has seen several openings at No. 1 including Australia, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, the South East Asian markets, the Middle East, India and more. The comedy has also enjoyed small drops in key markets throughout the run and has topped the last film in 38 offshore hubs as well as beating the original in 46. In 15 markets, it is the biggest Atkinson title ever.
Part of the increased box office is certainly down to growth in offshore markets over the past seven years. Bevan also notes that the character connects with overseas audiences in part thanks to the previous pics and the popularity of Atkinson’s Mr Bean in both film and on television. It also helps that Atkinson “is a proper physical comedian” and his brand of silent comedy easily translates to any language.
A return to Johnny English after seven years, Bevan says, was simply down to Atkinson. “We work very closely with Rowan, and he doesn’t like to work too much,” he laughs. The erstwhile Blackadder does “like the process of development and takes his time. That’s fine. We know on a Rowan movie it will take a few years. This is the fifth film we’ve all done together and there’s a certain style of working.”
The budgets also stay reasonable. “Rowan is very responsible,” says Bevan, and, “we just try to put the money on the screen.” That goes for Working Title as a rule, the producer notes. “On British movies we shoot in the UK a lot and have loyal crews. People give us decent rates and we are enormously appreciative. It means we can make a $30M movie look like a $50M movie.”
Atkinson helps throughout the process, says Universal EVP of International Distribution Niels Swinkels. “Rowan is hugely collaborative. He does the interstitials and takes time coming up with great print visuals.” The social media universe is huge on Johnny English with 202.6M, per RelishMix, though all driven by international reach and activity. Marketing the film overseas, says Swinkels, is “highlighting the similar comedy notes from his movies, playing to the strengths, lots of it physical… We find out time and again that his type of humor plays across generations and cultures.”
Working Title has worked with Atkinson for over 20 years and Bevan praises, “There are very few British movie stars who could consistently do what Rowan has done over time… This puts him up there as a comedian who can work around the world.” Swinkels adds cheekily, “The world is more British than the U.S., I guess.” Notably, the U.S. per-theater average this past weekend was about $2,500, but Canada doubled that. The character simply hasn’t taken hold in the States.
China, however, will be a new proposition given this is the first of the Johnny English movies to release. But that doesn’t mean the Middle Kingdom hasn’t seen them. Atkinson enjoys great popularity there and will travel to both Shanghai and Hangzhou to excite folks for the November 23 release. Johnny English Strikes Again is opening against Disney’s Ralph Breaks The Internet, and we’ll keep an eye on how the two play out.