International box office is rescuing bad franchises

Sarah Posted by Sarah at June 26, 2017 16:12:23 June 26, 2017 16:12:23

Transformers: Broken Car Alarm opened with a dismal $69 million over a five-day opening weekend. It’s enough to open at #1 but it’s one of those “congratulations on being the toughest poodle” sort of wins – and that’s still a piss-poor result for a Wednesday-Sunday opening run. It’s also $35 million less than the opening weekend for the last Transformers movie, which is an alarming rate of depreciation. This franchise is dying, it’s time to intervene.

Just kidding! It’s doing great overseas, so who the f*ck cares about the domestic box office! This is true: Transformers 5 sh*t the bed at home, but it pulled $196 million internationally. With a budget officially recognized as $217 million, they’re already halfway to break-even, more or less. There’s definitely pressure on the international box office to survive the second week—they don’t have any real competition until Spider-Man: Homecoming on July 7—but there’s a chance this isn’t a disaster for Paramount, at least on paper. Unlike, say, The Mummy, which is estimated to lose $95 million for Universal.

But even that loss at Universal isn’t enough to kill the burgeoning Dark Universe franchise. Why? Because the arrival of Transformers pretty well ended their run. They won’t blame the movie itself for the performance, they’ll blame Tom Cruise and a bad release date. What they’ll focus on positively is how well The Mummy performed overseas, at least until Transformers came out (tent pole overcrowding is a real problem). Likewise, Disney can soften the blow of disappointing domestic box office for Pirates of the Caribbean by looking at those international numbers: 76% of the take, which is closing in on $700 million, is from international box office.

The international box office keeps saving bad franchises. I don’t want to blame international audiences, and assume they’re less sophisticated or dumber than American audiences. That’s just patently untrue—the biggest foreign markets, like China, Japan, and India, all have thriving native cinema scenes and produce goddamned great movies on their own. What they don’t do, though, is produce Hollywood blockbusters. (China tried recently with The Great Wall, but it didn’t go well for anyone.)The answer lies somewhere between an appetite for these movies and Hollywood’s efficiency at producing them.

But the end result is that the studios have no incentive to make better movies. As long as they can sell them SOMEWHERE, they’ll keep on as they are. Transformers is terrible, but why bother making a better movie? Kids will buy the toys and the international take will keep the movie studio from suffering too disastrous a loss. And we’ll keep getting sh*tty Transformers and Pirates movies—and whatever the f*ck Universal is trying to do with their monsters—until the entire tent pole sub-industry collapses. And on that day, I assume Disney will buy out everyone.

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