Most film fans and journalists enjoy kicking Hollywood when it’s down, so from the moment initial box office data suggests that an expected blockbuster will end up flopping that bad news is suddenly everywhere. Yet in some cases the naysayers speak too soon and become shocked when a sequel to a movie that bombed at the U.S. box office gets greenlighted. Sure, the U.S. is the biggest film market, but do those commentators really think everyone around the world has the same taste?
While it’s no surprise that films like Thor 2, Fast & Furious 6, and Iron Man 3 make more money overseas than they do in the U.S., those movies are still massive blockbusters in America. Still, films like that generally make about two-thirds of their total grosses from foreign box office. However, in some cases films will do far better overseas than they do in the U.S. with the foreign box office making up 75-80% of the total box office gross. These include films that the U.S. media has already declared flops.
While U.S. box office is still the most important — depending on the country, studios usually get less of a cut of the international box office, partially because that profit is shared with the international distributor — it certainly helps allay worries about poor U.S. box office when the theaters are packed in Brazil, Japan, Poland, France, or China. It also suggests that other revenue streams, like merchandising and home media sales, are also strong in those countries.
Below are six films that made 75% or more of their total worldwide gross from foreign countries in 2013.
(Credit for all the box office figures goes to Box Office Mojo).
Domestic Gross: $101,802,906
Foreign Gross: $305,800,000
Worldwide Gross: $407,602,906
Pundits were quick to point out that Pacific Rim, which cost Warner Bros. $190 million to make, would be unlikely to see a profit after a disappointing $37 million opening weekend in the U.S. That was before Pacific Rim started to clean house overseas, making 75% of its total grosses from international markets. In fact, after the film had a massive opening in China Entertainment Weekly speculated that Pacific Rim could even get a sequel if worldwide box office reached “the high-$300 million neighborhood,” which it eventually eclipsed. That’s good news for a movie (and people who loved it, like Alex) that many American critics are inaccurately putting on their “biggest flops” year-end lists. (FULL REVIEW)
THE LAST STAND
Domestic Gross: $12,050,299
Foreign Gross: $36,280,458
Worldwide Gross: $48,330,757
The U.S. box office for Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s solo “comeback” film — his first lead role since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines — can only be seen as a major disappointment, especially since it debuted at #9 and quickly sank off the box office charts. While it’s unlikely that the $45 million budget will be recouped by its theatrical run, it’s at least reassuring for Arnold that he still is a box office draw overseas. By the way, this isn’t the first time you’ll see Arnold’s name on this list, proving that he’s still a huge draw overseas even though his U.S. box office appeal has sunk far from his early 1990s peak. (FULL REVIEW)
Domestic Gross: $60,522,097
Foreign Gross: $183,321,030
Worldwide Gross: $243,843,127
When After Earth only made $27 million its opening weekend and opened at #3, Hollywood was stunned. Will Smith‘s action films regularly open extremely well — in fact, Hancock and I Am Legend made more money in the U.S. in their opening weekends than the entire domestic run of After Earth! To put that in perspective, the only time a Will Smith action movie opened with a lower weekend gross than After Earth was the first Bad Boys in 1995, and that’s not even adjusting for inflation. Smith even joked about how terribly the movie opened while he was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel a few days after the opening weekend. But Smith really spoke too soon. While the $130 million film was a total flop in the U.S., the international grosses made up more than 75% of its worldwide gross. Though the film failing on Smith’s home turf probably means there won’t be a sequel, it didn’t end up as big of a loser as first suspected. However, it was definitely a blow to Smith’s ego, and is probably why we’re starting to hear rumors about Bad Boys 3. (FULL REVIEW)
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
Domestic Gross: $67,349,198
Foreign Gross: $237,304,984
Worldwide Gross: $304,654,182
Bruce Willis‘ signature Die Hard series has always been good to him, with the fourth film in the series, 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, grossing $134.5 million in the U.S. However, even though the fifth film, A Good Day to Die Hard, opened at #1 in the U.S. with $24.8 million, it only managed to gross $67.3 million in the U.S. That’s even less than the U.S. gross of the first Die Hard, which made $83 million in 1988! But like Schwarzenegger, Willis has a huge international fanbase, and the excellent international business actually makes the film the second highest grossing film in the series and easily recouped its $92 million budget. Since the movie is set in Russia, it’s probably not surprising that it made $12.2 million in Russia alone. Though the fifth film’s low grosses in the U.S. have some people scratching their heads when Willis talks about wrapping the series with a sixth film titled Die Hardest, anyone looking at the international numbers knows that there’s a good chance that it will happen. (FULL REVIEW)
THE SMURFS 2
Domestic Gross: $71,017,784
Foreign Gross: $276,527,576
Worldwide Gross: $347,545,360
Most people probably shrugged their shoulders when The Smurfs 2 opened to almost half of the original’s U.S. opening ($17.4 million vs. $35.6 million) and ended up likewise grossing about half that its predecessor did in the U.S. ($71 million vs. $142.6 million). That is if people even cared, because the figures clearly show that The Smurfs 2 lost more than half of the first film’s U.S. ticket buyers. However, if you are surprised that the $105 million sequel already has another sequel penciled in for August 2015 despite The Smurfs 2’s low U.S. gross, a look at the international box office reveals why. Though The Smurfs 2 still vastly underperformed compared to the original (which had a worldwide gross of $563.7 million), the little blue gnomes are very popular overseas.
Domestic Gross: $24,958,000
Foreign Gross: $98,156,938
Worldwide Gross: $123,114,938
Those Expendables guys are really popular overseas, aren’t they? Though it’s still in theaters around the world, the Sylvester Stallone-Arnold Schwarzenegger team-up movie Escape Plan has made nearly 80% of its total gross from overseas markets as of December 29, including a staggering $40.9 million in China alone. I’ve seen budget estimates from Escape Plan vary from $50-85 million, but even if the higher figure is more accurate the foreign gross alone more than covers the budget. On top of that, Escape Plan has yet to open in a few markets, including Japan, where American films generally do well. In other words, it’s impossible to deny that this film is a hit, just not in the U.S. (FULL REVIEW)
So it seems like if you’re planning to invest in the movie business, you could do a lot worse than lend a few bucks to Schwarzenegger, Stallone, or Willis for another action flick, right?