It’s easy to forget that I live in a foreign movie market, or what America terms the “International Box Office,” but we’re not talking foreign movies with subtitles. There’s something a little different about the international box office right now -- specifically that the international box office is king. Anyone living in North America right now should be worried... about spoilers because soon you’re going to be last on the list to get the latest big movie.
The old convention was to release your big movie either simultaneously with the rest of the world or in the US first with an international roll out later, but this practice has shifted the past few years. Now Europe or Australia gets these big movies first. So what makes the international release so much more desirable?
Like everything, it’s down to money. American box office didn’t grow at all in 2010-11. In fact, it shrunk. Targeting your most profitable markets first makes sense. The reasons most films don’t go worldwide on opening day is because it’s so damn expensive to roll out. Not to mention that you're forced to split your star power. That’s not ideal; you want the face promoting the film on every television in every continent as much as possible. Staggering releases is the perfect way to do this. But why, for example, did we Brits get The Avengers before America?
Comics are wholly American. Most of the heroes are American. It takes a huge risk to put that kind of movie out to the super serious British public before the marketing juggernaut of Hollywood has had its wicked way with a movie. Normally I’ve had my face rubbed in spoilers and teasers of the best bits. This year it was my turn. I was spouting Avengers lines onto my Twitter feed before any crowds gathered for midnight screenings in America.
Actually, it turns out we’re not super serious; we loved our stupidly “internationally” named Avengers Assemble. Boat loads of money to ship home arrived but something more important came along: goodwill. The kind of goodwill money can’t buy. All the worries of too many leads, an unproven feature director, and sequel fatigue quickly ebbed away. In a world of instant communication you no longer needed to see your friends for word of mouth business. For the kids in America, the world had spoken seven days previous. They didn’t have to wait for someone they know to see it -- millions already had.
Of course, a movie should stand on its own -- and it does, it’s super -- but you can’t help and look at that $200 million haul in America this weekend and think that some of that was helped by an early international release. Will this be the new model going forward?
I hinted at a world of spoilers for my US friends but there is a flip side to the model. Battleship, the latest board-game-to-blockbuster was released in the UK on April 11, a whole five weeks before its US debut. It hasn’t reviewed well, mostly because it is terrible, and that instantaneous word of mouth will do it no favors. Maybe. It has a Transformers vibe that suggests it may do well in the US regardless of quality, as it has a much more domestic US flavor than even The Avengers. Not screening your movie to a handful of critics normally commits a film to a life of sin and bitter disappointment. Screening your shit movie to a continent of critics might be the worst idea ever.
There is a little bit more to where you release your movie going forward then than simply cost saving. There’s a new way to play an audience, blind moviegoers fill the pockets of hacks. Those with some guidance fill the pockets of Joss Whedon. Where do you want your money going?
If you want to watch this trend play out over the next few months -- or, more importantly what to avoid spoilers for -- there’s a few key movies to keep an eye on. First up is the box office performance of Battleship (under performed by half of a Transformers opening in the UK.) More intriguingly is Prometheus’ early UK release, a film wrapped in mystery that will potentially be made or broken before it even opens across the Atlantic. Stay tuned.