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Hollywood Insider International Box Office Impact on Movie Making Decisions

Photo: International Box Office

In the last twenty years, the international market for movies became a predominant factor in the film industry. A film’s domestic performance does not matter as much as it used to because substantial profits can be made overseas. Out of $42.2 billion made at the box office worldwide in 2019, the U.S. and Canada took in just shy of 13% with $11.4 billion. The international box office made up over 70% of the total revenue in 2019. The top three films at the box office worldwide in 2019 made double their domestic gross in foreign markets. All of the top ten grossing films made more money at the foreign box office than they did at the domestic. These numbers show that the international market is a significant player in the movie industry.

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How the International Box Office Affects Filmmaking

The international market has already influenced the movie industry in recent years, and it will continue to do so because it offers a significant return on investment. With this in mind, and the ability to release different versions of a movie across the globe, studios have tapped the idea of creating different cuts of their movies or changing them completely, for international appeal. 

Screenrant compiled a list of 15 films that made drastic changes to appeal to a foreign audience. Red Dawn’s plot of a group of teenagers looking to save their town from foreign invaders originally had China as the country that invaded the United States. Late in development, the film was reworked to make the invaders from North Korea. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End’s scenes with the Chinese pirate captain Sao Feng were almost entirely cut from the film’s release in China because it was thought that the character’s depiction would upset Chinese audiences. One film that had different cuts for different markets was Iron Man 3. The film included extra scenes that created a subplot with Chinese characters not seen in the cut shown in America. This inclusion of actors from foreign countries is a way to attract international audiences. 

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Another way to attract international audiences is to have filming locations in major countries outside the United States. Pacific Rim made more than three times its domestic gross overseas. Its international success was likely the reason the sequel was given the go-ahead. In the follow-up film, Pacific Rim: Uprising, most of the story took place outside of the United States. China and Australia were the predominant locations for the film; they are also prominent markets in film. Other movies that included filming locations to appeal to foreign audiences are Transformers: Age of Extinction, Looper, and the remake of The Karate Kid.

Another impact of making movies catered to a broader audience is the necessity for plots and dialogue to be simplified. Movies that contain these elements can be easily lost in translation with the necessity of subtitles. Instead, heavy action sequences are becoming a mainstay for a lot of modern films. Audiences worldwide can watch these films and not get bogged down with dense dialogue scenes or complex plots. While simple movies do not equate to bad films, they can be conducive to a broader appeal.

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What is to Come

One of the significant benefits of the foreign markets’ influence, touched upon previously, is the inclusion of a diverse cast and set of locations. A study on portrayals of gender, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ, and disability from 2007 to 2018 discusses the percentage of white characters decreasing significantly over the years. This has made way for the representation of more diverse characters and stories. And while this does not necessarily correlate with the emergence of the foreign market’s influence on film, it allows for a more diverse and worldwide appeal.

Genre is another aspect of film that has been affected by the international market and will continue to influence movies to come. With the international box office dominating the market in terms of gross profit, it would be reasonable to think that genres performing well overseas will get substantial investment. American Film Market studied how major genres performed around the world. In this study, it was revealed that action films are extremely popular in Asia. China, Japan, and South Korea had the top three spots on international box office markets in 2019. This popularity of the action genre fits in with the idea that it is easier to follow action than dense dialogue scenes or complex plots.

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Conclusion – International Box Office is More Profitable Than Domestic Box Office

What is to come from the movie industry coincides with how the international market affects it. Movies that can appeal to audiences around the world will continue to be green-lit in Hollywood. This means diversity and action will be a major component of movies coming out in the future. Anticipated films that fit these categories are Mulan, No Time to Die, and Godzilla vs. King Kong, and Tenet.

While the action genre will be a heavy favorite to prevail at the box office, Parasite gives those looking for more depth a chance to rejoice over the fact that complex storytelling and diversity can cross borders. The 2020 Oscar Winner for best film was lauded for its depth of characters, story, and it had commercial success. 

Since the international box office is more profitable than the domestic box office – this means movies that are more appealing to international audiences will receive more investments and thus get green-lit more often. The question remains: Has diversity increased in Hollywood movies due to more respect for diversity or due to diversity causing more profit?

There is much to celebrate and look forward to with the direction film is heading in. The international market has a heavy influence on films being made in recent times, and that will continue to be the case going forward. The action genre will continue to be pushed for worldwide audiences. But, whether your preference is action or drama, one thing you can be sure to expect and delight over is more diversity in film.

By Drew Ross

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