The theatrical business continued to thrive overseas in 2019, hitting a record $31.1B per comScore’s latest estimates, and an all-time high of $42.5B globally. This is the first time worldwide exceeds $42B and the first the international box office climbs past $30B. The results come in a year when domestic dipped by 4%.
Of the major studios, only Disney saw increases at overseas turnstiles versus 2018 as its mega brands dominated (see chart below). This year is expected to look vastly different, but handwringing can wait. Sure, it would take a lot for the stars to align again the way they did for Disney in 2019, but its 2020 slate of largely fresh IP is also tipped to create some breathing room for other studios to spread out the field (we’re looking at you, Universal). And 2021 looms mightily with potential across the board.
In the year just past, “Some films didn’t have oxygen to hang out in the room,” suggests a distribution exec in the face of Disney’s Avengers: Endgame, The Lion King, Toy Story 4 and surprise hit Aladdin, among others. But execs are realistic on 2020. With fewer true event pictures, say Deadline finance sources, the aggregate net negative cost as well as distribution expenses for studios will be less this year. Thus, box office can be proportionately lower while still maintaining profitability. Overall, 2020 should throw off several big movies instead of nine enormous ones, with certainly fewer crossing $1B worldwide.
It is estimated that 2019 becomes the second year in a row that all studio motion picture divisions will be profitable. Sounds one person, “We are still seeing grosses in markets that are immature and there is still room for the middle classes to emerge and multiplexes to be built all around the world.” Over the coming years, South East Asia still has place to build out its infrastructure (think Indonesia and its massive population). Africa, a continent of over 1B people, has yet to be truly explored and has a growing middle class. There’s also the local language business to consider, particularly in markets that lean largely to homegrown fare like India. We can expect more attention paid to the market going forward. (Certainly Netflix is betting big on the TV side there.)
The international box office remains the lifeblood of the business, repping 73% of grosses in 2019. And while China is still more optics than profit given the 25% revenue share cap, there were a number of Hollywood movies that would have gotten to $1B worldwide in 2019 without that market at all (Joker did and was never released there, making 69% of its money abroad). That points to the global nature of the business, particularly as there was encouraging growth in mature markets like Japan, Germany, Italy and Mexico, and with the emerging hubs continuing to put in extra muscle.
For all the worry about alternative platforms chipping away at theatrical, most execs talk of a symbiotic relationship whereby the more people stream, the more they also see movies in theaters. The streamers are also creating growth in the ancillary markets. Says a source, “They are licensing content at record prices and TV deals are renewing because there are so many players competing for product.” International rollout on the majors’ proprietary platforms has yet to begin and there will remain long term output deals to be untangled. Regardless, says one exec, “Studios can’t just license product to themselves. They have to pay a fair price. I don’t see it affecting the business.”
What streaming does affect is how to make a film that gets people off their sofas. Product can no longer be episodic or overly formulaic, and films need to have something unique that breaks through, or at least a raison d’être. Otherwise, audiences will respond like they did to such 2019 titles as Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, Terminator: Dark Fate or Men In Black: International. Conversely, look at the success of unique original fare from Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) and Rian Johnson (Knives Out) in 2019. At the same time, studios are being more cost-conscious, figuring out what’s theatrical and making movies for reasonable prices as well as being smarter about spending on P&A.
To cap it off, adds a finance source, “People have to understand this is a long term and cyclical business. The bad and good periods are never as bad or as good as we think they are.”
Below, we take a look at trends in the offshore marketplace, as well as the studios’ individual 2019 performance and what’s on deck for 2020. Note that summer 2020 may be one area of congestion given the Euro Cup kicks off in June and will travel throughout Europe, while the Olympics follow. There are strong counterprogrammers on deck including Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman 1984 and Tenet; as well as Pixar’s Soul, Disney’s Jungle Cruise and Universal/Illumination’s Minions: The Rise Of Gru.
The rankings on the following chart demonstrate the power of Disney in the past year. Its international take (even without Fox) is slightly higher than the studio’s full global 2018. For reference, click here to see last year’s chart.
2019 TOP MARKETS IN THE REAR-VIEW
Heroes; lions, ladies and a supervillain were among the dominant forces at the international box office in 2019. Avengers: Endgame (Disney), The Lion King (Dis), Frozen 2 (Dis), Spider-Man: Far From Home (Sony), Joker (WB), Captain Marvel (Dis), Aladdin (Dis), Toy Story 4 (Dis) and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (Universal) landed the Top 10 offshore slots for the studios in grosses made during the calendar year.
Disney is the only major showing increases internationally, while Lionsgate also threw off bigger numbers than 2018 thanks to John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and Knives Out, a fresh piece of IP which crossed $100M at the end of the year.
As in 2018, China contributed two movies to the overall Top 10 in Ne Zha ($721M) and The Wandering Earth ($682M, both in the home market only and per comScore estimates). Local pics drove the box office there, with only Endgame and Hobbs & Shaw in the Top 10. Overall takings hit another record at RMB 64.27B ($9.2B). Growth slowed, however, to just 5.4% versus 9% in 2018 on a local currency basis (per ticketing platform Maoyan). Chinese movies took 64.1% of the pie, a slight bump compared to 2018. However, admissions grew by just .5%. Complains a distribution maven, “The government took what was incredible growth in the first six months, but manipulated it in a way that screwed it up” later in the year with date changes, pile-ons and pulling certain films.
There are some who believe China will overtake domestic in 2020, but skeptics also abound. After cracking down on tax fraud at the end of 2018, and with the shift of oversight of the film industry from SAPPRFT to the Propaganda Department, the new regime has been oppressive and scared locals out of investing, we are told. There is worry about a dearth of product in the next year and possibly into 2021.
On the flipside, it’s believed that authorities will allow more foreign product into the market. Already in 2019, the July blackout was essentially non-existent. Local industry speculation is Disney/Marvel’s 2021 title Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings could be the first Hollywood movie to open Chinese New Year. While common belief is China needs local movies on the holidays when people are home with their families, Shang-Chi might be the right mix of compromise. Whatever happens with the still stalled negotiations between the USTR and the PROC, China will need movies to feed its massive cinema circuits.
Some studio executives say they are not reading doom and gloom into Hollywood being down a few points in the Middle Kingdom. Consistently, we hear there is caution about China but that it is not the be all and end all. Gross-wise, it’s impressive, but not contribution-wise.
Across the Top 10 overseas markets, the UK is one of only two (with Australia) that saw a dip versus 2018. It dropped about 2% to £1.35B (per comScore estimates which run through December 29). But the market is also coming off an outsize previous year which was its biggest in 30, despite the massive amount of competition from television and sports. An exec calls the flat nature of 2019 “hugely encouraging.”
As for currency fluctuations, there were no massive swings in 2019. The pound has been artificially low as a result of the confusion over Brexit, but the hope is this will shift after January 31. Problem areas continue to be Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, however, with Latin America as a whole dropping 40% in the last seven years. Yet, four important hubs saw double-digit growth in local currency: Japan, Italy, Germany and Mexico. (In the latter, it’s accepted wisdom that if Disney has a big year, the market benefits.)
Japan’s recovery has been called “remarkable,” with a climb of 16.6% to 242.4B yen. The dollar increase is even better at 17.9% for $2.22B. That’s thanks to a combination of local and Hollywood product, a sign of a healthy market, including Weathering With You and Aladdin, the latter a massive breakout for Disney.
There was also good news this year for Italy, a sore spot in 2018. The country still has a way to go, but kicked up its heels by 14% on a local currency basis in 2019, partly down to a concerted effort by the majors to program the typically desert-like summer. The plan is to continue pushing the season and make Italy a 12-month a year business. The other straggler from 2018, Germany saw a boost of 7.8% in dollars (13.7% in local currency). Aiding that was Constantin’s Perfect Strangers, coincidentally a remake of an Italian comedy, which grossed over $50M in the calendar year (it is still going) to rank in a Top 5 dominated by Disney.
Germany is also beginning to make up for the lag it has seen in terms of technology and exhibition offerings in what is a regionally fragmented market. For a country with over 80M people, there are only eight IMAX theaters. Notes an exec, “A market of that size should have a better per-capita moviegoing rate than 1.8. If the infrastructure ever got put right in Italy, and Germany got its exhibition act together in a way that was meaningful, they should be doing so much more.”
France had a banner year of 213.3M admissions, a 6% increase on 2018 and the 2nd highest amount since 1966. The jump in local currency was also 6%, but just .4% in dollars. It’s notable that in a market with such a rich moviemaking and moviegoing tradition, only one local film lands in the Top 5. In sum, French films dropped to just 35% of the whole, off nearly 6%.
It’s important to keep in mind how impactful a local title can be on moviegoing in the home territory as it encourages people back to the theaters. Korea’s Extreme Job ($123.5M) and awards-season darling Parasite ($72M) bookended a Top 5 that includes three Disney titles in the middle, and helped lift full-year grosses by 4% in dollars and 9.8% in won. Fox, Warner Bros and Sony have strong track records with local pics and we understand the studios are generally looking more closely at a business that helps all boats rise.
DISNEY (and FOX)
It was milestone after milestone for Disney in 2019, as the studio passed $11B global for the first time in industry history, while international grosses of $7.354B are also a new benchmark (the latter up nearly 74% versus 2018). This is without the Fox figures which increase worldwide to $13.152B and offshore to $8.823B. Six Disney films across the silos crossed $1B global (and Avengers: Endgame got well past $2B to become the biggest movie of all time). Even the titles that didn’t set fans on fire, or were critically dinged, were winners: Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (soon to join the billion-dollar club) and Aladdin (which surprised everyone this summer and did genius business in Japan and Korea).
But these unheard of numbers shouldn’t set a new bar for the company. Contrary to 2019, Disney’s 2020 is not filled with sequels or mega-franchise movies, but then in order to become a franchise, you have to start somewhere. This will be a reset year for Marvel with The Eternals in November, while Pixar has two new movies on deck in March’s Onward and the summer’s Soul. Mulan is expected to overindex internationally. Black Widow arrives in May and early social metrics are strong (but one has to wonder about a standalone origins movie fronted by a character we just watched die in another recent film). Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt could start a new franchise with July’s Jungle Cruise. Heading into the holiday corridor in November comes Raya And The Last Dragon from the Walt Disney Animation stable.
In March 2019, Disney swallowed Fox and had to contend with some ornery, expensive inherited titles including X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Alita: Battle Angel and Terminator: Dark Fate. Each of those made over 70% of their box office in offshore markets, but weren’t a good look. Things revved up on the critical side with Fox/Chernin’s late-breaking Ford V Ferrari which recently rounded $200M worldwide and is an awards contender. Disney loved the movie and has put a lot of fuel behind it. Searchlight, which has a terrific track record, has remained intact and gave Dis another awards season darling in Jojo Rabbit.
The Fox team had a difficult year during a massive transition, and its international box office was down 38% in 2019. There are some leftovers from the studio which have been rumored to have problems (The New Mutants, The Woman In The Window), but as Anthony noted in his domestic report, Disney’s intention with Big Fox is to cover its bases with adult counterprogramming at which the studio has excelled. Up ahead, Kenneth Branagh’s Death On The Nile sets sail in October; Fox’s good luck charm Ryan Reynolds is in this summer’s potential counterprogrammer comedy Free Guy and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story comes dancing in next Christmas.
Although it was off 21% from a record 2018 offshore, the Burbank studio had a big reason to smile in 2019 with Todd Phillips’ Joker which became the highest-grossing R-rated movie ever, and the first to pass $1B global. The dark DC origins story kicked off at the Venice Film Festival and benefited from a strategy WB has previously employed to capitalize on the Lido’s media spotlight and jump start awards conversations (think Gravity and A Star Is Born). With $735M at offshore turnstiles, Joker contributed heavily to WB’s full international cume of $2.85B, and with the exception of China where the film did not release, it is the highest grossing DC title ever, as well as the biggest WB movie of all time in 33 markets.
Next on WB’s 2019 scorecard, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu did $289M overseas; $121M of that is from China and Japan where Legendary and Toho, respectively, released the movie. Same was the set up on Godzilla: King Of The Monsters whose $284M international includes $161M from those Asian markets. The meh reaction to the monsters begs a question on this year’s Godzilla Vs Kong and whether it can appeal to more general audiences.
It Chapter 2‘s $261M makes it the 2nd highest grossing horror film ever offshore, and Shazam! was a solid thriftily-priced win at $225M.
As with domestic, WB’s fall dramas were largely rejected overseas (though The Good Liar still has some markets to go). Doctor Sleep was a missed opportunity that just came and went with no real international jazz, despite an intriguing presentation for exhibitors at CineEurope last summer and positive reviews. But this one didn’t make good on the good will.
Expect Christopher Nolan to make good this summer with Tenet staking out the filmmaker’s preferred July date. Nolan has proved he can make even a dark war drama with almost no dialogue (Dunkirk) work in the middle of summer. Tenet will pick up for WB after Wonder Woman 1984 starts lassoing box office in June, followed by Jon Chu’s counterprogrammer In The Heights which could break out, but is not as well known a property internationally. Before that, in February, one of the most talked about films is DC’s Birds Of Prey, though Suicide Squad did just 57% of its business overseas.
James Wan’s mysterious Malignant is due in mid-August and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It moves into the September horror corridor that’s become WB’s turf. December’s Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve and with a starry cast, is eyed as a commercial property with awards potential. Scoob! starts sleuthing in mid-May and in other animation with international awareness, Tom And Jerry get their own big screen transfer at the end of the year.
For 2019, Universal’s international gross was $2.152B, a 26% drop from 2018, but the 3rd year in a row to cross $2B. Globally, the studio is off by 32%. Never mind. Rival executives universally believe it is going to have a very good 2020 — and that’s even as Cats got skinned in late 2019.
This was a year without tentpoles from the core franchises, but an eclectic slate of varied genres and originals contributed to the bottom line. Highlights were led by Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw with Uni proving it could spin off one of its most lucrative franchises and deliver $586.6M at offshore turnstiles (plus snagging the No. 1 slot worldwide for four weekends and a final cume of $760.5M global). With H&S, Uni is the only studio other than Disney to have a film in the Top 10 in China for the year. The movie pushed the F&F franchise to $5.8B global and is the 6th biggest franchise of all time. Fast & Furious 9 is on deck for May and will be huge.
Uni had great success with its first DreamWorks Animation release, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. At $360M overseas ($520.8M WW), it’s just too bad that the charming series is ending. Also in animation, the thrifty folks at Chris Meledandri’s Illumination made The Secret Life Of Pets 2 for a price and while the movie didn’t wag its tail as much as the first, it is still a profitable pic at $276M international ($433.8M WW).
The big screen transfer of Downton Abbey from Focus grossed $92.9M overseas ($189.8M WW) in 2019 and still has Japan to come. A modestly-budget adult drama that revisited all things Crowley years after the seminal TV series ended, it’s ripe for a sequel. Working Title’s Yesterday performed well in the offshore majors (particularly English-speaking hubs) and grossed $151M worldwide with a pretty even split to domestic. And while Last Christmas didn’t work domestically, it played well through the holiday season in the UK and warmed to $85M internationally.
In the negative column, well, Cats. The movie’s biggest overseas market is the UK with $13M. Is there a world in which one day the ill-fated musical becomes a sort of new Rocky Horror Picture Show?
For 2020, Uni has begun rolling out Sam Mendes’ 1917 in Amblin markets with awards season momentum expected to be a boost. The expensive Doolittle with its shifting release dates may be a concern, but Robert Downey Jr has been out on the promotional trail and the early start in Korea is encouraging as it came in well above expectations at No. 1 today. While the demo isn’t exactly the same since this is a broad family pic with talking animals, it marks RDJ’s first big film since fading out as Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame.
We are hearing great things about Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man in February. The Elisabeth Moss-starrer is inspired by Universal’s classic monster character and hails from Leigh Whannell (Insidious/Saw).
And this is the year that Uni gets its license to distribute Bond in offshore markets. The film begins rollout on April 2 overseas, a week before domestic where MGM/UA handle. The studio has put a lot of firepower behind the
Cary Joji Fukunaga-directed pic with stars set to be out touring rigorously and many global partnerships. The studio has a fee deal on the movie, but it’s a great opportunity.
DWA’s Trolls World Tour starts in mid-March, a month before the U.S. and then Illumination’s Minions: The Rise Of Gru hits the summer and the sweet spot of soccer counterprogramming. DWA’s Croods 2 lands in December; it’s been a while since the first film, although the original was one of the early breakout hits in China.
Tom Hanks, a robot and a dog star in October’s Bios and then the actor will be seen in a reteam with director Paul Greengrass for holiday entry News Of The World.
Sony saw a 14% dip in 2019 offshore waters, but that’s coming off a 2018 that was the studio’s best international year since 2012. Highlights included Spider-Man: Far From Home ($741.4M offshore) which bowed in July and went on to gross over $1.1B worldwide. Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood made over $231M overseas after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival and is firmly on the awards trail. And repeating a 2017 phenomenon, Sony released Jumanji: The Next Level in the Christmas corridor as counterprogramming to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker. The film is nearing $400M international and has crossed $600M WW. Sony is also having success with Greta Gerwig’s Little Women in a fresh take at old IP.
Sony has increasingly programmed summer and Christmas with broad family entertainment and adult fare, and though it had a miss with June’s Men In Black: International which just didn’t click. Still, the studio hasn’t been reticent to spread its risk as it did on that title. But the film wasn’t fresh enough and audiences were not satisfied. And The Angry Birds Movie 2 didn’t fly like the original, despite better critical response. Sony perhaps underestimated what the brand would be at the time of release, even though it utilized a great launch pad at Cannes in May. And, Charlie’s Angels just never got lift-off.
Notably 2020 include this month’s Bad Boys For Life, a threequel that is probably more of a domestic punch; followed by Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island in February (while the trailers haven’t shown much akin to the Aaron Spelling TV series, this is still a brand that is known worldwide). In March, Vin Diesel will be seen in Valiant Comics’ Bloodshot. That’s followed in April by the sequel to the profitable family pic Peter Rabbit (the first a thrifty overseas hit). After the most recent reboot, Ghostbusters: Afterlife goes in July, followed by Spider-Man spinoff Morbius. Escape Room 2 in August will look to cash in on the Asian markets where the first excelled. And, then there’s the Untitled Sony/Marvel sequel for early October, widely believed to be Venom 2…
As with others, Paramount had a down 2019 versus 2018, off by about 19% internationally as it came off the success of Mission: Impossible – Fallout in 2018. But it also had a critical and awards season hit with Elton John biopic Rocketman ($99.3M overseas). The musical fantasy didn’t do the sort of numbers that other recent films of its ilk ( Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody), though it was a warts-and-all film that had a terrific launch at the Cannes Film Festival and released outside the fall corridor where those other musicals have found longer tails. Part of the issue was also the explicit nature of the film that turned off some audiences. It deserved to do more.
This year’s fortunes should rise with Tom Cruise again in the pilot’s seat as Top Gun: Maverick is due for release in the summer — trailers and sneaks have gone down a treat with audiences and overseas exhibitors. A key difference overall this year is that Paramount’s schedule is better spaced and should punch regularly.
Par made the wise decision to retool Sonic: The Hedgehog after fan backlash to the eponymous character’s look. And, the sequel to Jon Krasinki’s smash A Quiet Place is due to hit in March. Also notable are Eddie Murphy sequel Coming 2 America and Chris Pratt-starrer The Tomorrow War. Other titles to look out for include the next Sponge Bob, Infinite with Mark Wahlberg, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, GI Joe Snake Eye and Clifford The Big Red Dog.
While Lionsgate was severely off in 2018 from 2017, last year saw a recalibration in content strategy and an offshore increase of 48% with a win in John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum at $156M overseas and $327M worldwide. Original IP in the form of Knives Out has also been a shot in the arm, crossing $100M internationally through the end of the year.
John Wick in particular has continued to grow and part of that is what’s seen as an emotional connection with Keanu Reeves’ eponymous assassin, along with some pretty cool action. There was about 100% growth from the second to the third film with even splits domestic to foreign. John Wick 4 arrives in 2021.
With Knives Out, Rian Johnson crafted a rich tapestry and landed a mainstream cast (with markets still to come in 2020) that energized audiences to check out the whodunnit. Lionsgate also had a handful of markets on last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner Green Book which traveled into 2019, doing $100M for the studio.
The company operates a hybrid model of self distributing in a handful of markets and then working with long term third party partners. Under new leadership, the global marketing group and how films are being marketed has been restructured to be more integrated and collaborative. There’s been a number of changes at the mini-major over the past two years, and it’s often the subject of acquisition chatter.
Upcoming in 2020 are the still-untitled Saw reimagining with Chris Rock and Samuel L Jackson from director Darren Lynn Bousman in May, as well as the Bridesmaids reteam of Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo who wrote and star alongside Jamie Dornan and Damon Wayans Jr in Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar from director Josh Greenbaum in late July. Antebellum, a thriller starring Janelle Monae releases in April and faith-based drama I Still Believe sings in March.
INTERNATIONAL BOX OFFICE BY STUDIO 2012-2019
For those keeping score across the years, we compiled the international box office totals for each of the six majors dating back to 2012 (using that year as the kick-off point given it’s when China started to really factor in the mix). Check out the ups-and-downs below: