In case you haven’t heard, one bit of big news that came out of the movie industry’s annual Las Vegas convention, ShoWest, today was that foreign box office receipts now make up 65 percent of Hollywood’s global theatrical revenues. Sixty-five percent! That’s almost two-thirds! That means that what we here in the U.S. and Canada spend amounts to a fractional one-third of the average movie’s worldwide take! Whoa!
Why should we care? The time-tested theory has it that in catering more and more to an international crowd, Hollywood is placing its bets on movies that can be appreciated by the broadest possible audience (i.e. films overloaded with gunfights, special effects, and superheroes) and giving up on straight dramas and smart comedies (whose themes and jokes tend to get lost in translation). A quick scan of 2008’s top box office earners bears that out: Big winners like Quantum of Solace (which earned 71 percent of its global box office overseas), Indiana Jones 4 (60 percent), and Mamma Mia! (76 percent) relied heavily on foreign crowds to boost the bottom line; perceived disappointments like The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (66 percent) were saved by money earned elsewhere; and hit domestic comedies like Step Brothers (22 percent) and Pineapple Express (14 percent) struggled internationally. Of course, studios are still making funny films like Pineapple Express, but I can report that my hunt for a basic drama that even closely resembles, say, 1988’s Best Picture, Rain Man (which grossed $354.8 mil worldwide…in 1988 dollars!) turned up nil. (Closest thing I could find was the giant-visual-effect-disguised-as-drama The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.)
So, okay, point proven. But lemme try this on you: Perhaps we should just get used to the fact that dinosaurs like Rain Man are extinct, and we should be glad that James Bond and Indiana Jones and their friends are propping up the box office. After all, domestic attendance declined in 2008 (although it has rebounded in 2009, so far), domestic receipts were basically flat, and Hollywood should be glad it has any good news to report in the current economic climate. What do you think? Should we just embrace this trend and be glad that, at the very least, there’s something playing in the multiplex? Or do you want more Rain Mans?