Will Der Polarexpress Play in Deutschland?

Would you believe that the Tom Hanks’ film The Terminal turned a profit?

I wouldn’t have believed it, not until I read this Wall Street Journal article (paid subscription required).

The Terminal did indeed tank in the US, but it turned a profit overall, thanks to the foreign markets. No wonder movie stars are racking up the frequent flyer miles plugging their films around the world. Overseas revenues were once viewed as little more than gravy on top of domestic revenues. No more.

Here’s an article excerpt:

    It’s the foreign box office, stupid. While movie attendance has been stalling in the U.S., it’s growing in other parts of the world, making Prague as much a bellwether for Hollywood as Peoria. The box office for movies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia will grow at an annual compounded rate of 4.7% to $8.3 billion over the next five years, according to estimates from PricewaterhouseCoopers. That’s slightly below projected box-office rate growth in the U.S., but it’s significant enough to buoy movies that sink stateside, especially when the movies feature stars who have a bigger following outside the U.S.

    The focus on the foreign market has even caused studios to change who gets cast and where movies are made. “Ocean’s Twelve,” which will be released Dec. 10 and is the sequel to the 2001 caper flick, “Ocean’s Eleven,” was deliberately set in Europe and filmed in Amsterdam, Paris and Rome, to “enhance the movie internationally,” says Alan Horn, president of Warner Bros. Pictures. “Ocean’s Eleven” pulled in $183.4 million at the U.S. box office, but $267.3 million overseas. Mr. Horn says he expects “Ocean’s Twelve” to do more overseas than “Ocean’s Eleven” did.

What we have here is a complete transformation in the way Hollywood does business, a transformation that is resulting in:

  • Simultaneous global releases. Studios launch films globally at once to minimize the “piracy tax” and maximize revenues. It used to be that foreign markets had to wait half a year, or more, to get the latest Hollywood flics. Not now. Ocean’s Twelve, for example, is opening in Germany just six days after it opens in the US.
  • Film Web sites going global. A number of studios already have global corporate Web sites (most of which are poorly executed). But until recently those individual film promotion Web sites were available in English only. This too is changing (see below). This is great news for translation and localization vendors.
  • Deep, artsy, subtle filme? You can forget about those, not that Hollywood was making many to begin with. The films that work globally consist of sex appeal, thin plots and chase scenes. Hollywood wants stories that don’t get lost in translation (no pun intended). But the larger question is this: If studios are now developing movies for global audiences, where does this leave the US audience?

Anyway, if you’re traveling to Berlin this winter, you might want to check out Der Polarexpress, playing at a cinema near you…

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