Random Factoid #545

24 01 2011

Money is hard to come by in Hollywood these days, and many movie studios are going to an audience that was relatively ignored in the past – foreign markets – to make profits off of risky film investments.  For many movies that bomb in the United States, their saving grace comes from overseas audiences, and they can break even or even turn a profit for producers.

The Big Picture, a blog written by Patrick Goldstein for The Los Angeles Times, featured an article today about the huge stream of revenue coming in from foreign markets and how it is affecting the way movies are made and marketed:

“Hollywood is taking advantage of its most compelling competitive advantage in world cinema. The epic scope of its Big Event movies can’t be achieved in other countries, which is why some of the most striking overseas box-office successes have been achieved by 3-D movies or special-effects driven animated films. When it comes to the riches available in the ever-expanding global market, there is no better example than the box-office trajectory of the ‘Ice Age’ series. The franchise has largely remained constant in the U.S.–with each of the three films making between $176 and $197 million–while the films have exploded around the globe, with the first film making $207 million overseas, the second one $457 million and the third one a whopping $690 million.

The potential for overseas box-office bullion is also driving the explosion in 3-D releases. 3-D movies have two distinct advantages overseas–they can’t be duplicated by local productions and, even better, they have a built-in safeguard against piracy, since the 3-D ingredient can be seen only in a theater. The real payoff came for horror films like the ‘Resident Evil’ series. When the franchise’s third installment was released, it did $50 million in the U.S., $96 million overseas. But the fourth film, ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife,’ released in 3-D, exploded when it was released last fall, making $60 million in the U.S. but an astounding $236 million overseas.

As Jeff Blake, Sony’s chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution, explains: ‘We’re increasingly having to compete with local product in each marketplace, so to get people’s attention away from the local product, you need something special. 3-D is the element that really makes the film stick.'”

It’s definitely true that Hollywood movies provide an unmatched spectacle, and the focus on that spectacle is what is selling overseas.  But what’s killing them in America is an overemphasis on spectacle and a lack of emphasis on storytelling and plot, the basic conventions necessary to make a story work.  Summer blockbusters like “Robin Hood” and “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” which did a faceplant in America, played like gangbusters overseas.

What we are faced with is an existential divide between worlds: foreign markets wanting all the benefits of modern technological advancement and domestic markets wanting a return to the classic conventions of cinema, especially fresh, original story material.  The studios will ultimately have a big choice ahead: provide quality filmmaking that is often a big gamble or continue to produce movies that will turn a profit even if they disappoint domestically.

And then, of course, that leads to the biggest question of all: Do movies need to be produced for a worldwide audience?

As a film blogger and lover of cinema, I’m of course inclined to say quality trumps all.  But money is money, and it’s not easy to have faith in studios to keep profits secondary to quality.  I think we are seeing a fundamental shift that will affect filmmaking, for better or for worse, in dramatic ways over the next decade.


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