The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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The 'Thor' Watch: For action movies, the real action is outside the U.S.

May 10, 2011 |  6:00 am

Chris_Hemsworth If I were the king of the entertainment media empire, one of my first royal decrees would be to tell my box-office reporter to pack his or her bags, hop a plane and find a cozy apartment in Moscow or Paris or Berlin. Because if you really want to follow the Hollywood box-office business, the action has definitely headed overseas. It's only a matter of time before our box-office reporters will be posted in some exotic locale, just like a foreign correspondent.

Look no further than "Thor," which opened in most countries a week before it debuted in the United States (and opened in Australia two weeks ahead of its U.S. bow). "Thor" has already made $176 million in its overseas bookings, dwarfing the solid $66 million it took in this past weekend in the U.S. Ditto for "Fast Five," which has earned $185 million overseas, easily outstripping its U.S. grosses.

It's hardly a surprise to see that Hollywood's most lucrative products--its action films and animated family pictures--make most of their money overseas. But what's really a surprise is to see how long it has taken studios to embrace the idea of opening their new movies overseas before they debut in the U.S. It's already happened for a host of franchise sequels -- "Iron Man 2" made its overseas debut a week before its U.S. opening -- but now the studios have finally decided to do it for new movies (though since it's the movie business, we use the word "new" advisedly, since virtually every tentpole movie today is based on something "old" that already proved itself in the marketplace, be it a comic book, video game or graphic novel).

The reasons are pretty simple. Most of Hollywood's franchises are now aimed more at global audiences than at domestic ones, so studios are now gearing their releases to a weekend that makes the most sense for Europe or Asia, not simply for the U.S. If a studio believes from its early screenings that a film will play reasonably well around the globe, then having a big overseas opening can create some helpful momentum for a U.S. release as well.

The Steven Spielberg-directed "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" opens in the U.S. on Dec. 23, but Paramount will release the film in Europe in late November, in part because "Tintin" is so much better known in Europe that it should find an especially receptive audience there. Expect similar early European and Asian openings for other films coming later this year. It only makes sense. If the biggest chunk of your potential audience is overseas, why not set your film's opening geared to the optimal leisure time availability of moviegoers in London or Berlin, not in Long Beach or Birmingham? The world is getting flatter every day.

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Chris Hemsworth as the title character in "Thor." Credit: Zade Rosenthal / Paramount Pictures-Marvel Studios