With $41.66B worldwide, movie theater turnstiles spun to another record in 2018. Largely boosted by domestic receipts, the total includes a preliminary comScore estimate of $29.8B from the international box office. That’s also a record, though just a 1% increase on 2017 with some offshore markets stung by exchange rate fluctuations, homegrown movie performance, a hot summer and the World Cup. The overseas percentage may increase when actuals are tallied, but either way, execs and industry watchers remain bullish on the future.
Deadline finance sources estimate repatriated dollars are down approximately 6.3% across the Top 20 overseas hubs. Still, all six major studios are estimated to be profitable in 2018. Despite the plethora of alternatives and some roadbumps, there’s a sentiment that Hollywood business is thriving, and international is the key with 70% give-or-take of the movie business generated offshore. Ancillary markets are robust and there’s been an increase in studio cost-consciousness — think overseas winners in the $50M range like Fox’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Sony’s Peter Rabbit — that all contribute to the bottom line.
For 2019, execs predict a “massive” year that includes event marquee pics like Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, How To Train Your Dragon 3, Frozen 2, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, Hobbs & Shaw, IT: Chapter 2, Cats and Star Wars: Episode IX.
Below, we take a look at trends in the offshore marketplace and what lies ahead, as well as the studios’ individual 2018 performance and what’s on deck for 2019. The rankings on the following global chart essentially mirror those of 2017, although some are up sharply — Warner Bros set internal worldwide and international records while Disney had its 2nd best year ever and Sony had its best year since 2012, for example.
2018 IN THE REAR-VIEW/2019 UP AHEAD
Superheroes, dinosaurs and Tom Cruise reigned in 2018 with Avengers: Infinity War (Disney), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Universal), Black Panther (Dis), Venom (Sony), Incredibles 2 (Dis), Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Paramount), Aquaman (Warner Bros), Bohemian Rhapsody (Fox), Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald (WB) and Ready Player One (WB) notching the Top 10 offshore slots for Hollywood titles.
There are two interesting takeaways here. Black Panther is the only movie in the Top 10 to have performed better domestically than internationally. It didn’t underperform overseas, but was a true cultural phenomenon in North America. Conversely, Bohemian Rhapsody is the only movie in the Top 10 Hollywood titles that did not release in China — and still made 73% of its money abroad.
Pics that got big boosts from China, and a healthy dose of fun, include Venom, Aquaman and WB’s The Meg. These are “the type of event ride that every studio wants; they play around the globe,” says a finance source who believes the focus will lean towards such properties going forward.
But even some less mainstream titles, and awards-season darlings, found sophisticated offshore audiences getting out to cinemas in 2018. Fox’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and The Shape Of Water each crossed $100M at the international box office while Uni’s Darkest Hour got to about $95M, all with most of the grosses in the calendar year 2018.
Horror is doing better travel-wise and it seems everyone (save Disney, but maybe with a future assist from Fox) is aiming to get in on that. Comedy is still an unfunny business overseas unless a property is built for international like 2018’s Johnny English Strikes Again ($30M budget/$158.1M WW/$153.8M IBO) from Universal and Working Title.
The Top 5 markets saw some fluctuation. China led the way with a slowed 9% increase over 2017 to $8.87B per local officials. It’s followed by Japan ($1.875B/-1.2%), the UK ($1.838B/+3.6%), Korea ($1.6B/+3.4%) and France ($1.436B/-.04%), per early comScore estimates.
Areas of consternation included Germany and Italy which were both down from 2017, impacted by a lack of leading local product, the heat and the soccer. Germany is one of the most avid football-watching nations and Italy is “impossible to program” during the dog days, as the refrain goes in distribution circles. One international exec cautions that despite those distractions, the lag in the markets is a concern because they are both in the Top 10 and by mid-year, before the soccer started, Germany was already off 18%. “It feels like it’s more than a one-off anomaly. When a market is down that much, people just don’t go back to the cinema because they haven’t been to movies that motivated them,” this person says.
Another executive notes that it’s difficult for the mature European markets to grow, though a good film will still do the job. “It’s kind of like the U.S. There’s not a lot to do in terms of expanding, but the right movie will work. We haven’t seen weakness in Europe on strong movies, just those middle ones or ones with bad reviews which die much faster.”
Before we lay the blame at Rotten Tomatoes’ feet, sentiment among international execs is that domestic reviews don’t kill a movie overseas. One need only look at the success of Venom and The Meg to see the low impact the domestic splats had on the offshore profit center. Without international, the latter would have lost money and instead now has a sequel in development.
Sony President of International Distribution Steven O’Dell notes, “The one thing you don’t know when you start making a film is what the mood of the world is going to be when the movie releases. Films such as Venom saw fun win out in a big way. Audiences are making their own decisions and consumer response is driving.”
Exhibition has also had to step up its game, offering services that make it easy to buy tickets and make folks feel a part of something while the studios feel it’s important to be closer to the consumer than ever before. That’s a refrain we hear annually at the CineEurope conference.
One area where exhibition faces a question mark in 2019 is Saudi Arabia. After a ban on movie theaters was lifted in late 2017, there was much fanfare over the market’s potential as a $1B player. But controversy surrounding the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has led to muted discussion of growth there. Movies are still being released, and, per one international exec, “Nobody has said ‘We pulled out,’ but it does feel like the exhibition side has slowed down.”
China is as coveted as ever by Hollywood, although studio pictures were down about 10% in 2018 and still recoup just 25% of box office. There are questions ahead as a crackdown on tax evasion by local authorities is expected to slow Middle Kingdom production. If homegrown pics are in short supply, will the market turn to Hollywood to ensure year-on-year growth? Or will it be more selective in order to maintain over 50% market share for local titles? Already there are rumors of fewer studio pics next fall while promotional talent visits may be curtailed around the time of the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic in early October — and discussions on a new film contract are stalled. See our deep dive on China here.
Elsewhere in Asia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia continue to throw off bigger numbers (the latter is up 5% in 2018). Factors include cinema build-out plus a very young demographic.
As for other areas of concern, Venezuela, which brought in sizable numbers in recent years (even though bolivars can’t be traded for dollars), was “wiped off the map” after a mega currency devaluation and projections of 1M% inflation. More worryingly, execs say, is the potential instability of the UK as Brexit looms. Last year, the market was a key factor in the successes of movies with British elements or themes like Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!, Bohemian Rhapsody, Peter Rabbit, Darkest Hour and Johnny English; broadcaster Channel4’s production arm, Film4, co-financed Fox Searchlight’s awards hopeful The Favourite. The market has also become a massive production hub, particularly for Warner Bros and Disney.
There are also questions surrounding Disney’s takeover of Fox. One non-Dis/non-Fox exec says, “They will need a good deal of runway, but nobody knows what’s going on. In the short-to-medium term, it’s business as usual” if also “a state of confusion.” Playing dating chicken is a concern some have down the line, but then it often is internationally given the number of markets being programmed and the vagaries of each. For the moment, watchers don’t foresee too many big shifts in the year ahead.
Here’s a closer look at each of the studios from the chart above (and see below for an additional graph that lists all international grosses dating back to 2012).
Disney again ruled the domestic, international and global box office with $7,325.4M worldwide, the 2nd biggest year in industry history behind its own 2016 record. It is the only studio ever to cross $7B global. Overseas, the total is $4,233.1M, also the Mouse’s 2nd best year ever and the 3rd biggest in industry history. The company’s brands pushed global up 13.4% over last year and overseas up 4.6%. That’s despite some trip-ups with A Wrinkle In Time, IP that does not have international recognition and stumbled to just $32.4M overseas; as well as Solo: A Star Wars Story which did just 46% of its business abroad and struggled both domestically and at home. Although Star Wars movies are not heavily weighted to overseas, this was the lowest split since Dis took over Lucasfilm and had the knock-on effect of nixing plans for other spinoffs like the Boba Fett movie. The franchise has also had a rough time pulling China into its tractor beam and this may be a problem that is never solved.
But Disney can afford it. Mouse pics hold the Nos 1, 2 and 4 spots on the worldwide chart and the Nos 1, 3 and 5 internationally for 2018. The trio is made up of Avengers: Infinity War ($2.05B WW/$1.37B intl), Black Panther ($1.35B/$648.3M) and Incredibles 2 $1.24B/$634M).
In 2019, Disney has what is expected to be the biggest movie of the year in Avengers: Endgame, along with Captain Marvel, Dumbo, The Lion King, Toy Story 4 and Frozen 2 among others. If history has taught us anything, look for those latter two to power up in Japan while The Lion King will notably roar in China (although the release date there will be key as domestic starts during the traditional July blackout). Star Wars: Episode IX kicks off overseas on December 18, bringing the galaxy far, far away back to the holiday corridor. Just don’t expect the Middle Kingdom to hitch a ride on the Millennium Falcon.
With the Disney/Fox deal not yet closed, there are no Fox titles on the Mouse’s slate. There’s been no word yet on how the international marketing and distribution teams will meld, so for now it’s a wait and see game.
Warners hit double milestones in 2018, scoring a studio record $5.57B worldwide and $3.62B (a whopping 16.8% over 2017) internationally. Origins story Aquaman caught a wave towards the end of the year and is about to cross $1B worldwide, breathing new life into the DC Universe and seeing particular strength in Asia and Latin America.
There were some other surprises in the mix. Popcorn pic The Meg made a splash in August — a month that studios have shied away from programming in recent years. A U.S.-China co-production, it became a lesson in wide-appeal partnerships, ultimately chomping on $384.8M internationally.
WB carved into horror again with The Nun anointed as the highest-grossing title in The Conjuring universe worldwide ($365.6M/68% from overseas). The IT sequel is coming in September 2019. Romantic comedies come with baggage and are hit-and-miss abroad. Domestic winner Crazy Rich Asians did a solid $64M for the genre offshore, but flailed in China where all-Asian casts are not a novelty. Does this affect sequel China Rich Girlfriend? There’s been some talk of it potentially shooting in the Middle Kingdom, although I understand a script has yet to be turned in and any decisions about locations will come much further down the line.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald had a softer play than its predecessor overseas — notably in the UK and China. The third pic in the series isn’t due until 2020. Counterprogramming against the World Cup worked well for Ocean’s 8 which made $157.5M overseas.
On deck, WB has another Conjuring pic this summer along with The Lego Movie 2, Shazam!, Detective Pikachu, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters and DC entry Joker which will look to capitalize on the goodwill wielded by Aquaman’s Trident of Neptune.
Without a Fast & Furious or Despicable movie in the mix this year, Universal’s international box office was down 15% (-5% WW). But let’s not cry for the studio which had its 3rd best year ever offshore. Uni boasts the only non-Disney picture to cross $1B worldwide in 2018 with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($1.309B/$891.8M IBO). The studio in 2018 also became the only one outside Disney to have at least two movies in three separate franchises (Despicable Me/Minions, Fast & Furious, Jurassic) to pass the $1B global milestone.
Illumination and Blumhouse delivered solid offshore hits on thrifty titles. The Grinch grossed $189.4M internationally through the end of the year and despite the fact that Dr Seuss is not a known commodity outside English-speaking markets (and Germany). It crossed $500M worldwide this week while 2019 has The Secret Life Of Pets 2 teed up. Halloween did $94.3M IBO and The First Purge $67.5M IBO.
Comedy isn’t all funny business overseas, but with partners Working Title, Uni has shown that “domestic” doesn’t always mean the U.S. In 2016, the partners had an offshore win with Bridget Jones’s Baby and this year saw Johnny English Strikes Again become the biggest studio comedy since 2014 with $157.6M globally, but just $4.3M from North America.
Though it didn’t reach the heights of the original, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! was a solid performer during the summer, grossing more than $394.7M worldwide, including over $83M in the UK where it was No. 2 for the year. Another franchise came to a close with Fifty Shades Freed bringing the trilogy across $1B. Hopefully the studio can get some new live-action franchises off the ground, unlike the obscure Mortal Engines which couldn’t get started.
2019 highlights include How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Blumhouse’s Happy Death Day 2U, Jordan Peele’s Us, the Downton Abbey movie, the bigscreen adaptation of Cats and the first Fast & Furious spinoff, Hobbs And Shaw.
Sony is again the No. 5 studio overseas ($2.334B/+13% on 2017), but jumps in the global rankings to No. 4 ($3.622B/+16%). This is the best international year since 2012 and saw the studio cross $2B overseas in November, its fastest time since 2012. Leading the charge was Venom, which became a marvel with the all-time best October worldwide debut and went on to overcome harsh critics, grabbing audiences by the throat — and the funny bone for $856M worldwide. In China, the Tom Hardy-starrer got an extension and ended 2018 as that market’s No. 3 Hollywood movie of the year and the 3rd biggest superhero title ever. Meanwhile, the edgy animated Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse still has Japan to come, crossing $100M just as the year closed.
Elsewhere, Peter Rabbit had a hopping good run in the UK to become Sony’s highest-grossing film there ever while Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is now the studio’s biggest animated movie worldwide. The lucrative franchise crossed $1.3B in 2018. In the genre arena, Sony distributed Insidious: The Last Key overseas where it became the franchise’s top grossing installment at over $100M, and it made a key pick up in Sundance with tech savvy thriller Searching ($70M WW).
The coming year will see a build-out of properties including Men In Black: International, Spider-Man: Far From Home, The Angry Birds Movie 2, the Charlie’s Angels reboot and another Jumanji to face off with another Star Wars at the end of the year. Sony also has Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood repping adult event moviemaking that should resonate overseas. Look for a possible Cannes launch for this one.
Also notable, Sony, which has been known for its innovative campaigns, experienced a shake-up in its international marketing and distribution divisions this summer, consolidating some of the traditional operations into global teams. This will be an area to watch.
With $2.39B in 2018, Fox comes in No. 4 at the overseas box office, but lands at No. 5 in the global rankings. Although the studio had its 2nd softest offshore total since 2013 (-2.4% on 2017), this is the 10th consecutive year over $2B and the 12th time in Fox International’s history — both of those are industry records. The Pico Blvd studio had a disappointment in the 2018 Predator reboot, which just didn’t seem to have much of a raison d’être, grossing $160.5M WW on a reported $88M production cost, plus an estimated $120M global P&A. But even amid uncertainty as the Disney deal forges on, the studio is havin’ a good time.
The huge success of Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was an end-of-2018 run that saw it land in the Top 10 of the year overseas. Fox’s crack global marketing team tapped into the popularity of Queen and energized audiences with singalong screenings that helped propel the movie to eye-popping $70M+ numbers in Japan and Korea. The Deadpool sequel was also a win with over $418M offshore. NB: Neither of those titles was released in China.
Under Fox Searchlight, it again has a serious awards contender in The Favourite. Hopes are that Disney emrbaces the adult-oriented and R-rated fare at which Fox excels and knows how to market. It’s not clear when the marketing and distribution transitions would take place, but it’s expected to be a complex process with Fox’s significant offshore infrastructure.
After a some date changes, there’s more Fox ahead in 2019 with a lot of eyes on Alita: Battle Angel (with a script from producer James Cameron) as well as X-Men entries Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants (the latter looking to tap into the growing thirst for horror), and Brad Pitt-in-space movie Ad Astra. All of those are going out under the Fox moniker (for now).
Paramount ended 2018 with a roughly 44%/56% split domestic to foreign. Overseas was nevertheless down by 25% to $975M. Instant Family was not built for overseas and Book Club, which worked domestically, was not a PAR property outside a couple offshore markets. The top two movies, Mission: Impossible – Fallout and A Quiet Place, accounted for $723.6M of the year’s total. Continuing its internal transformation, Paramount’s new regime plays are expected to really kick in during 2019. On deck are titles with global promise like Dora The Explorer, Sonic The Hedgehog, the reboot of Terminator with James Cameron producing, and rock music biopic Rocketman with Taron Egerton as Elton John and Bohemian Rhapsody back-up director Dexter Fletcher helming.
As Anthony noted in his domestic report, one could see the hand of CEO Jim Gianopulos and his marketing and distribution teams already winning in 2018. Mission: Impossible – Fallout set a franchise high with $791M worldwide and $571M overseas while the $17M-budgeted A Quiet Place became a global phenomenon at $340.7M, even nabbing a rare slot for a horror pic in China — and an extended run.
The studio is staying in the horror business with Pet Semetary in April. A Quiet Place sequel is due in 2020. As for spinoff Bumblebee, the movie won’t get anywhere near the smash-em-up numbers of the Transformers franchise, although it was made for a wider demo on a lower budget. It has great reviews and opened well in China last week with Japan still to come.
In a year of transition, and starved for franchises à la Hunger Games, Lionsgate saw a 52% drop in its international box office for 2018. Late-2017 release Wonder was a true wonder, grossing $306M worldwide including $96.4M from 2018. But when Robin Hood ($46M IBO) is the biggest new offshore title of the year, that’s nothing for LG’s output partners to write home about. The mini-major did have a solid performer in Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor ($43M IBO/$94.8M WW) and is looking forward to 2019 under new senior leadership.
On deck are Keanu Reeves threequel John Wick: Chapter 3, Neil Marshall’s Hellboy with Stranger Things’ David Harbour, Flarsky with Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, Roland Emmerich’s Midway and Rian Johnson’s starry Knives Out. There’s further hope out ahead for the in-development Now You See Me 3 and Sam Raimi’s The Kingkiller Chronicle.
INTERNATIONAL BOX OFFICE BY STUDIO 2012-2018
Now, 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:
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