Do Blockbuster Films Necessarily Need American Box-Office Anymore?


You remember The Mummy, right? Came out earlier this year, something about a “shared monster universe,” yadda yadda yadda, Tom Cruise, yadda yadda. Didn’t do too well with the critics and in American box-office, was largely considered to be a bomb.

Buuuut: in the global arena, The Mummy made over $400 million, with China being its biggest market. In fact…the movie was the biggest opening for a Cruise movie ever.

These successes have now, in theory, kept The Mummy in play for a possible sequel (and perhaps the continuance of the proposed franchise).

Now let’s consider the case of Luc Besson’s Valerian—also considered to be somewhat of a failure in the ‘States. It won the box-office in China last weekend, and also performed well in France and Russia.

And then there’s Transformers: The Last Knight—which Forbes described as “no box-office-bomb,” but “still a disaster.” It also underperformed in the U.S., but topped Chinese box-office and has made over $400 million overseas.

In none of these 3 situations did these films become super-mega blockbusters overseas, veritable phenomenons. But they did perform well, in contrast to their U.S. take.

I always hear: “why are they still making Transformers films—they suck!” Or: “why are they making a movie out of that (insert toy or video game or rebooted tv/movie franchise here)?” Or, “why oh why are they doing ANOTHER sequel (to Pirates of the Caribbean or equivalent)?”

Well, they keep making Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean movies because they continue to make money globally.

Another thing I often hear related to this discussion is: “well, these movies do good overseas because they (the Chinese, etc.) have bad taste in movies (or are not as smart, or as discerning in their cinematic tastes).”

This is a misleading mindset to get into. I believe there are differences in aesthetics, preferred narrative structure, types of protagonists, and even values to consider here—which does not necessarily have a tremendous amount of bearing on whether overseas filmgoers are “smart” or not.

I think Hollywood ignores the impact of the foreign box-office at its peril. But I also think Hollywood has largely not been ignoring its impact. In fact, I think for at least the last 5 years, Hollywood has increasingly been funding and creating movies with one eye firmly planted in the direction of China, and etc.

Now, what does this all mean to us, the humble consumers of pop-culture entertainment?

Perhaps 14 more Transformers movies. And that “Dark Universe” Sony has been blathering on about. And…Pirates of the Caribbean 6.