Not even rainy weather on the east coast could save Hollywood from itself last weekend. July 4th weekend box office fell a stunning 44% compared to 2013. The studios are blaming the World Cup and lack of big releases over the holiday weekend but there's something bigger at work.
For June, U.S. box office dropped 16% and for 2014 year to date receipts are at 2011 levels. The key phrase here is "U.S." The reason Hollywood isn't panicking over weak results locally is that international sales are strong, particularly in China where box office is soaring over 20%.
The new Transformers flick for instance may be lagging here but it's set to become the biggest box office hit in Chinese history sometime this week. In fact, Transformers is huge everywhere except the U.S., taking in nearly $600 million dollars world wide and $200 million in China alone.
Even our grandest, most jingoistic super heroes are being groomed for foreign appeal. The years' biggest movie to date is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The frozen World War II GI's second feature has raked in $250 million here but that's only about a third of its total box office.
The U.S. was once the big dog when it came to movie sales. We dictated tastes and let the rest of the world have our dregs and non-descript action droppings. Now the economics have switched. Today Hollywood errs on the side of International appeal. That means action, CGI and perhaps most importantly, bad guys with no foreign national attachments. Our heroes may be American but the bad guys are from space and apparently drive a stick shift. Faceless commie MIG pilots were great foils for Tom Cruise in the 80's but in Edge of Tomorrow he's fighting alien squid and he's doing it in Europe. Why? Because despite being Cruise's best movie in years Edge is getting 75% of its box office overseas.
There's an unfortunate cultural precedent. Today Nazis still make great bad guys but that's only because they aren't in power. In the 30's Hollywood more or less ignored them entirely because of the German box office.
This trend isn't going away any time soon. The money is too big despite the Chinese limiting releases and distribution. That's good news if you like on screen explosions but, at least based on the local returns, there's still a place for plot in America's hearts.
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