Hollywood 2008: Popular Movies–National and Global Taste

When looking at the top-grossing films of 2008 from a global standpoint, it is interesting to analyze for each of the 10 pictures the ratio between domestic (namely U.S.) and foreign (international) grosses.  For example, “The Dark Knight” made close to $1 billion, but more than 50 percent of that impressive figure ($531 million, to be exact) was generated by American audiences.


Mamma Mia! More Popular than Titanic?


In contrast, the joyous but poorly reviewed musical “Mamma Mia!” grossed close to $573 million globally, but the ratio between domestic and foreign performance is 1 to 3: The U.S. figure is 144 million, and the international is 429 million.  Here is a feel-good crowd-pleaser that transcended easily all kinds of borders and barriers.  In some countries, such as the U.K., Greece, and Sweden,”Mamma Mia!” was even more commercially popular than “Titanic,” the 1997 Oscar-winning tent pole movie, which still occupies numero uno in film history.


There is only one more movie on the chart, whose numbers are dominated by domestic grosses.  The comic book adaptation “Iron Man,” starring Robert Downey Jr., made more money in the U.S. ($318 million) than abroad ($264 million).


In other cases, such as Disney’s spectacular and sophisticated animation, “Wall-E,” which some critics consider to be the very best film of the year, the foreign figures are more or less the same as the national ones. Of the total figure of $513, $224 million were generated by American and $289 million by foreign viewers.


The story is very different for the other successful animation feature, DreamWorks’ “Kung Fu Panda,” which made more money than “Wall-E, both nationally and internationally, perhaps because it was simpler and more conventional. Occupying the third position on the chart with $632 global grosses, the film yielded $215 million domestically, but twice as much ($416 million) in foreign markets.


The 22nd James Bond picture, “Quantum of Solace,” which is still playing, is marked by the same trend.  About $166 million of the total $546 million came from American moviegoers and $380 from international ones.  It will be interesting to see if the new Bond, Daniel Craig, can draw mass audiences to his other current film, the Holocaust drama “Defiance,” which just opened in wide release.


As far as “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” is concerned, it is also safe to say that the franchise is more popular abroad than at home.  Of the $420 million total grosses, two thirds ($278 million) were accounted for by foreign markets and only one third ($142 million) by the domestic market.  Slapped with mixed to negative reviews, the second chapter is considered to be an artistic and commercial disappointment, which may be the reason why Disney had decided not to collaborate on the third installment with Walden Media.


Despite variability, one thing is clear from the chart: the great dependency of mainstream Hollywood movies on their performance in foreign markets.  You could look at this trend in two different ways.  We increasingly live in a global village as far as entertainment is concerned, where audiences around the world want to see the same kind of pictures, despite language, political, religious and other barriers. P>


And as I pointed out in a previous article, Hollywood movies are not made anymore for American audiences, which mean that they have to rely on what our industry still does better than any other national cinema, big-budget, special-effects driven movies that derive their appeal from state-of-the art technology rather than their narrative, storytelling, characters, and even stars.


Top-Grossing Movies (Worldwide in $ as of Jan 2009)


The Dark Knight            996.8

Indiana Jones 4              786.6

Kung Fu Panda              631.9

Hancock                        624.4

Iron Man                        581.4

Mamma Mia!                  572.1

Quantum of Solace         546.0

Wall-E                           513.0

Madagascar: Escape 2   481.0

Chronicles of Narnia 2     419.6