Most of the discussion about the Summer 2011 slate has centered around whether or not the plethora of sequels and comic book adaptations have what it takes to revive a slumping domestic box office. However, while domestic remains the single biggest market, the rapidly-expanding foreign market has in recent years become a much more potent source of box office.
According to the Motion Picture Association of America's 2010 Annual Report, domestic box office remained relatively stagnant from 2009 to 2010. Foreign sales, though, grew from $18.8 billion to $21.2 billion, an increase of 13 percent. This was the most dramatic improvement in at least five years and can be attributed in part to the explosion in 3D screens in the developing world, especially in Latin America and China.
While domestic interest in the 3D format seems to have reached its peak (and may even be trending downwards), 3D has continued to be a growth area overseas. As of the beginning of 2011, 19 percent of U.S. screens were 3D capable, but only 12 percent of international screens had the upgraded technology. In the months leading up to the summer blockbuster season, there was surely a major effort to close that gap overseas.
With the summer box office under way, Thor and Fast Five have generated impressive numbers so far. Thor opened in late April and has already made over $230 million. Fast Five expanded worldwide a week later and has earned over $285 million to set a new record for the decade-old series.
The remaining months of Summer 2011 feature a mix of sequels, adaptations and one buzz-worthy original movie that are certain to generate huge revenue and, in turn, continue to increase the relevance of international box office. Below is a release schedule for summer's major titles, along with forecasted total grosses for each movie:
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (in 3D and IMAX) Distributor: Disney Schedule: May 20 worldwide (day-and date with domestic release). Analysis: The last Pirates of the Caribbean movie earned a massive $654 million overseas back in Summer 2007, though it's not particularly well-regarded. On Stranger Tides is a lower-budget reboot of sorts, and it's the series' first movie to be presented in 3D. Between Johnny Depp's enduring popularity and nostalgia for the swashbuckling fun of the original Pirates movie, On Stranger Tides should have no problem scoring huge numbers, though some of the event-movie status has faded and reaching At World's End's sum feels like a stretch. Forecast: $610 million
The Hangover Part II Distributor: Warner Bros. Schedule: Day-and-date with May 26 domestic release in around 40 territories; virtually all remaining markets the following week. Analysis: The first Hangover movie wasn't just a hit domestically. It also scored a huge $190.2 million overseas. Part II takes the characters to Bangkok, Thailand, which should help the movie out in Asian markets, and the idea of piecing together the events after a heavy night of drinking remains a relatable theme. A slight increase over the first movie seems well within reason. Forecast: $220 million
Kung Fu Panda 2 (in 3D and IMAX) Distributor: Paramount Schedule: Day-and-date with May 26 domestic release in Russia and most of Asia; expands to most European and Latin American markets by the weekend of June 17. Analysis: The first Kung Fu Panda earned $416.3 million overseas in 2008, which was a huge figure for an original non-Pixar movie. DreamWorks Animation has had two first sequels in the last decade (Shrek 2 and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa) and, on average, they improved 79 percent from their predecessors. If Kung Fu Panda 2 did that, it would reach $745 million, which would make it the highest-grossing animated movie ever overseas. That seems excessive considering the crowded foreign market, though it will still almost certainly be one of the top-grossing movies overseas of the year. Forecast: $590 million
X-Men: First Class Distributor: Fox Schedule: Day-and-date with June 3 domestic release in a majority of territories, including the United Kingdom, France, Brazil and Italy; 12 of the remaining 14 territories the following week. Analysis: The X-Men series improved with each new entry up until 2009 prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which earned $193 million overseas. While First Class loses the Wolverine character, it adds a potentially more compelling premise, and Fox has put together a solid campaign (at least domestically). An improvement over Wolverine is definitely possible, though it probably won't go much higher. Forecast: $210 million
Super 8 (in IMAX) Distributor: Paramount Schedule: Day-and-date in a handful of territories with June 10 domestic release; expands to at least 16 other territories the following weekend before moving in to major European countries (U.K., France, Germany, Spain) in August. Analysis: With its small-town America vibe and no international stars, J.J. Abrams' Super 8 faces a major uphill battle overseas. Its gradual foreign roll-out indicates that Paramount is hoping strong word-of-mouth from the U.S. will translate into solid earnings when the movie reaches Europe in August. Having Steven Spielberg's name attached won't hurt either. One of the best comparisons available is Signs, which grossed $180 million back in 2002. Since Super 8 is lacking Mel Gibson's star power, a similar gross on much lower attendance is a safe bet, though this movie is a very tough call. Forecast: $190 million
Green Lantern (in 3D) Distributor: Warner Bros. Schedule: Day-and-date with June 17 domestic release in the U.K., Russia and South Korea; rolls out to remaining territories throughout June, July and August. Analysis: Many people have already written off Green Lantern domestically: the campaign started too late, the otherworldly effects are off-putting and so on. However, all major superhero launches in recent years have been at least somewhat successful overseas. While it probably won't be able to reach the first Iron Man's $266.7 million, it does give off a vibe similar to Fantastic Four, which earned $175 million in 2005. Adjusted for a growing overseas market and 3D ticket pricing, Green Lantern seems poised to end up north of $200 million. Forecast: $225 million
Cars 2 (in 3D and IMAX) Distributor: Disney Schedule: Day-and-date with June 24 domestic release in around 30 territories, including Russia, Italy, India, Mexico, Brazil and Australia, before expanding in to remaining key territories throughout July and August. Analysis: With its NASCAR-based plot and characters, Cars is one of animation powerhouse Pixar's least-successful movies overseas. Cars 2 seems custom made to combat this problem: the story finds Lightning McQueen competing in the World Grand Prix in a diverse range of countries while Mater gets entangled in some international espionage. All recent animated sequels have grown over their predecessors (especially with 3D), but the obvious increased foreign appeal should help Cars 2 dramatically out-gross the first Cars's $217.9 million. Forecast: $390 million
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (in 3D and IMAX) Distributor: Paramount Schedule: Day-and-date with July 1 domestic release in nearly all territories; arrives in China a week later, followed by Japan on July 29. Analysis: The last Transformers movie earned $434 million overseas, but was largely reviled. In some cases, that can result in decreased earnings for part three (Ocean's Thirteen, Little Fockers), but, generally speaking, closely-timed sequels are usually able to tread water regardless of the opinion of the previous installment. With solid trailers packed with impressive visual effects, along with a 3D and IMAX boost, Dark of the Moon will probably end up in the same ballpark as Revenge of the Fallen. Forecast: $460 million
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (in 3D and IMAX) Distributor: Warner Bros. Schedule: Day-and-date worldwide with the July 15 domestic release. Analysis:Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is undoubtedly the most anticipated series conclusion since at least Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith and could even be as big as TheLord of the Rings: The Return of the King. These movies averaged a foreign increase of 31 percent over their predecessors. If Deathly Hallows Part 2 performs similarly, it would end up with over $850 million. In a series where foreign attendance has stagnated, though, an increase of this magnitude is highly unlikely. However, the conclusion of the Harry Potter series will almost certainly become the top grosser by a healthy margin. Forecast: $710 million
Captain America: The First Avenger (in 3D) Distributor: Paramount Schedule: The weekend of July 29 in around 25 territories (including Australia, Italy, Russia, and the U.K.), before expanding in to most remaining territories throughout August. Analysis: In order to not alienate foreign viewers, Captain America: The First Avenger is simply being called The First Avenger in many foreign territories, though it's going to be tough to avoid the red, white and blue in the previews. Crusading Americans in World War II Europe, though, has translated to strong international earnings before: Inglourious Basterds made $201 million two years ago, and that was essentially an arthouse movie, while Saving Private Ryan grossed over $265 million in 1998. The First Avenger is also nicely positioned at least two weeks after Harry Potter, and it should also be helped by its association with the popular Avengers series. Forecast: $270 million
Rise of the Planet of the Apes Distributor: Fox Schedule: Day-and-date with Aug. 5 domestic release in around 30 markets; 22 more markets open the following two weeks, with the rest spread out through the beginning of October. Analysis The last Planet of the Apes movie opened almost exactly ten years before Rise of the Planet of the Apes hits theaters, and it earned $182.2 million overseas. That was a much more anticipated movie at the time, though it was also a completely different era in foreign box office. If this prequel underwhelms domestically, distributor 20th Century Fox may be able to avoid total disappointment with strong foreign earnings as it did with Knight & Day, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Gulliver's Travels. A similar scenario seems likely for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Forecast: $205 million
Cowboys & Aliens Distributor: Paramount/Universal Schedule: The weekend of August 12 in at least 13 territories, including Russia, Australia, South Korea and most smaller Asian countries before expanding throughout Europe in late August and early September. Analysis:Cowboys & Aliens faces an uphill battle overseas thanks to the first part of its title and its setting. Westerns rarely play well internationally: even with the help of Johnny Depp, Rango hasn't even reached $120 million yet. Still, alien invasion movies are usually safe bets, and Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are international stars that will help generate interest. An improvement over recent alien invasion pic Battle: Los Angeles ($118 million) is reasonable, though there's virtually no way Cowboys & Aliens becomes a major overseas hit. Forecast: $140 million
Foreign Top Ten Forecast (in millions) 1. Harry Potter 8 - $710 2. Pirates of the Caribbean 4 - $610 3. Kung Fu Panda 2 - $590 4. Transformers 3 - $460 5. Cars 2 - $390 6. Fast Five - $370 7. Thor - $290 8. The First Avenger - $270 9. Green Lantern - $225 10. The Hangover Part II - $220