New ideas must be in short supply…
In theaters this year, you can catch 16 sequels, six remakes, four comic book movies and at least three 3-D reissues.
And if you go by reviews, this trend of repurposing old ideas hasn’t made movies any better, either.
The top 10 grossing movies from 2011 – eight of which were sequels – have an average rating of 57% on the popular movie review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes. Compare that to just 10 years ago, when the top 10 movies achieved a rating of 74%.
So what’s with the massive decline in quality?
It’s simple: Hollywood makes more money on “bad” movies than on “good” ones.
But before you go blaming it on the worsening taste of your fellow North American moviegoers, take a look at these numbers…
In 2011, 63% of box office receipts came from outside of North America. The international markets combined provided $21 billion in ticket sales, compared to just $12.2 billion in the United States. And some emerging market economies are growing ticket sales by double digits each year.
Take some of last year’s big hits.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” – the fourth in the Pirates franchise – had a budget of $300 million, earned $241 million in domestic gross and received terrible reviews (34% rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
If that were the whole story, you’d say it was a total flop. But it’s not. “Pirates’” international gross made its North American look like chump change, raking in a whopping $802 million.
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“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” tells a similar story. It’s the third in the series, with a $270 million budget, $352 million in domestic sales, and an abysmal critical reception. Nevertheless, international sales topped $770 million and made it all worthwhile.
You might be asking at this point: Wouldn’t good movies earn even more? I doubt it, and here’s why…
It’s not that foreign audiences have poor taste in movies. In fact, it’s still true that many of the best “art” films come from Europe and increasingly Asia, as well.
But the overriding fact is that explosions (big budget) are easily translated into any language, while nuanced social commentary and multi-dimensional characters (small budget) are difficult to make relatable to international audiences. I mean, what’s more understandable than sex and violence?
Don’t look for the trend to reverse anytime soon, either. To a studio executive, nothing looks better than a sure bet on a low-brow, broad appeal action flick – especially now that international sales are juicing box office numbers.
In the end, as globalization forges ahead, any industry with exportable goods will eventually adapt to address a global customer base, rather than just a domestic one. Which, for better or worse, is exactly what the movie industry’s done. And successfully.
Ahead of the tape,