The strange trajectory of Hollywood movies: Fizzling in U.S. but skyrocketing overseas

Gullivers_travels As Thomas Friedman famously put it in his 2005 bestseller, the world is flat. With the arrival of outsourcing, open-source software and Google-style search engine technology, great ideas, brainpower and money fly around the planet faster than ever, making historical and geographical divisions increasingly irrelevant in the global marketplace.

Except when it comes to Hollywood, where the world is hardly flat at all. In other arenas, quality is king, which is why we don't see millions of Americans driving Yugos rather than Toyotas or millions of Japanese listening to music on Microsoft's Zune instead of Apple's iPod. But in the movie business, the world has a strange tilt on its axis. Each year there are a surprising number of movies that are thoroughly rejected by American consumers that go on to enormous success around the rest of the globe.

"Gulliver's Travels" is a bomb in the U.S., struggling to reach the $40-million mark. But overseas, the 20th Century Fox film is a hit, on its way to grossing $170 million, four times what it's done in the states. Sony has similarly high hopes for "The Tourist," which has made a little more than $65 million here. The studio projects that the film will eventually make another $160 million around the world. The same goes for last summer's "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," which was written off as a costly flop after it made only $90 million in the U.S. But the film has gone on to make an amazing $244 million in the international marketplace.

What's going on here? How is it possible that an American-made product can be rejected by its home-grown consumers, yet embraced by moviegoers elsewhere?

Pop Culture
01/24/2011 14:56

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