Age of extinction? Hollywood looks to the Pacific rim

The movieverse is diving up territories in a new way: English speaking and everybody else. That’s the only way to explain the success of Transformers 4 in Asia

Chinese (left, centre) and South Korean  posters for Transformers: Age of Extinction

Chinese (left, centre) and South Korean posters for Transformers: Age of Extinction

Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 00:00

Is cinema broken? Again? That’s the question studio suits were asking last week when newly totted up sums revealed that the US summer box-office take was the lowest in eight years. A real bummer summer.

“Moviegoing begets moviegoing, and we have lost our momentum,” Rentrak’s Paul Dergarabedian told the Hollywood Reporter. “People aren’t seeing trailers and marketing materials. They still want to go to the movies – they just want to go to really good movies.”

Good movies, you say? Who knew?

The snark-tastic, orgasmically reviewed Guardians of the Galaxy may reduce the deficit in Anglophone territories. We’re all currently down 12 per cent since 2013. If Guardians is an enormo-hit, the box office may finish with a mere 10 per cent dent in sales. But it won’t quite save the farm: the same title’s pop irony is unlikely to play so well in the Rest of World.

Pop irony is a divisive thing in the movieverse: The Lego Movie did a whopping 55 per cent of its $467,846,492 haul in North America, plus another $57 million in the UK and Ireland. That’s a good 15 per cent more Anglo receipts than for the average smash.

We’re used to thinking of movieverse numbers as Domestic (that is, American) or International (all those map blobs outside the US). But a neater division is between English-speaking territories and everybody else. Look at Transformers 4, which looks set to be the only title to cross the billion-dollar mark since January. That’s largely down to a big hunk of change from China ($300 million-plus) and other Asian markets. In this part of the world and in the US, conversely, Transformers is way, way down on previous instalments.

A mean-spirited commentator might point to such entertainments as Transformers 4 and denounce the “international” taste for robots that turn into dinosaurs or Johnny Depp in a hat as primitive. Especially when placed beside the Anglophone preference for relatively sophisticated entertainments such as The Dark Knight (which made only 40 per cent of its billion-dollar-plus haul outside of the US and UK).

No matter: on either side of the language divide, footfall is falling. Many commentators are clinging to the prospect of summer 2015, the season of Avengers 2, Jurassic World, Minions and Bourne 5.

Perhaps they’re right. But other analysts remember Steven Spielberg’s dire warnings from last year: that a business model based entirely on sequels and remakes and recycled comic books and huge budgets is certain to implode. CinemaScope is reporting that young men (18-25) are not going to the movies in anything like the numbers they used to.

Indeed, many of this summer’s biggest successes boast female leads and relied on female audiences: think Maleficent, The Fault in Our Stars and Scarlett Johansson vehicle Lucy. The latter trounced Hercules in the US last weekend with a $44 million opening.

In the UK and ROI, meanwhile, we have our own leading lady: Mrs Brown D’Movie has overtaken The Lego Movie to become Ireland’s most popular film of the year to date, earning €3.4 million in the Republic. Add on the Northern Irish take of €698,596 and the regional total comes in at £13,881,660.

Stand back. We’ll show those Rest of Worlders who’s primitive.

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