Posted August 25, 2009 by William Dunmyer in Uncategorized

Popcorn Movies Shatter Expectations Overseas, Indicating New 21st-Century Pattern

You thought “The Dark Knight” had box-office numbers that only come around once or twice in a lifetime? In 2009, three American popcorn movies are generating money at the level of “The Dark Knight.” Billion-dollar movies used to stand out; now they are par for the course. What a difference a year makes! It’s safe now to say that American popcorn movies rule the world.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” have each surpassed $800 million globally (as of August 9). “Potter” has substantial upside remaining, making it likely the film will surpass $900 million. “Dark Knight” will probably keep the billion-dollar record, but only narrowly.

The third-biggest summer movie is “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” which is at about $775 million and will probably make it to the low 800s. Fourth is “Angels and Demons” with approx. $500 million.

Even more jaw-dropping than the overall numbers are the overseas proportions. In the 20th century, Hollywood generated the lion’s share of its revenue domestically. Now a new pattern is emerging, with the overseas market taking prominence. “Transformers” has earned 50% of its revenue overseas, but 65% of “Potter” revenue has so far come from overseas. And approximately 75% of the receipts from “Ice Age” and “Angels” have come from overseas audiences. Two of the biggest movies of the year, and three-quarters of their firepower is from foreign markets.

This pattern has been taking shape gradually over the last decade. The writing is now clearly on the wall: for 21st-century popcorn movies, the American audience will in many cases be dwarfed by the overseas audience. When Hollywood studios conceive of new popcorn movies, they must now think more about audiences in Europe and Asia than they do about audiences in America.

After the top four titans there is a second tier, seven films that have made around $400 million each. (Isn’t it mind-boggling that we’re at the point where a $400-million take gets a film into the second tier?) The films are, in no particular order:

  • Wolverine
  • Terminator Salvation
  • Up
  • Night at the Museum 2
  • Star Trek
  • Monsters Vs. Aliens
  • The Hangover

Of those, “Terminator” and “Night at the Museum” were especially popular with overseas audiences.

The studios having the best summer are Warner Brothers, Paramount and Fox, each with three monster money-makers. Columbia has only had one big profit machine, “Angels and Demons,” and Disney has only had “Up.” Universal has had the worst summer, without a single film hitting $200 million and most not even making it to profitability. The latest Universal disappointment is Judd Apatow’s “Funny People,” which was expected to be a gigantic hit but will likely top out at $65 million globally. Universal also had “Land of the Lost,” the most notorious failure of the year. Although perhaps Paramount’s “Imagine That” deserves that title. Eddie Murphy’s latest flop is unlikely to make even $20 million globally.

The late-summer movies with the most potential are “G-Force,” “G.I. Joe,” and “District 9.” They are all going to make a lot of money, but it remains to be seen whether they have what it takes to make it into the $400 million club.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.