Once upon a time, a Hollywood film had to hit it big stateside in order to be considered a box office success. But this isn’t the case anymore. Markets outside of the U.S., particularly China, are starting to tip the scales, contributing significantly to the success of a film, whether it performed well at home or not.
As the 15 movies selected below prove, some Hollywood flicks don’t need North American moviegoers in order to bring in serious bank.
Domestically, the critically loathed fifth addition to the Transformers franchise brought in a relatively weak $130 million on a $217 million budget. But internationally, it raked in an impressive $475 million. The latest in Michael Bay’s popular franchise about the transforming robotic cars benefitted from its large international fan base, especially in China and South Korea. While Americans may be growing tired of the story, it’s clear the powers-that-be are banking on that big international following to come out once again for an upcoming spinoff/prequel based on the Bumblebee character, which will be released this December.
Starring international A-lister Tom Cruise, The Mummy made a paltry $80 million domestically compared to $329 million internationally. Its $31.7 million debut was the lowest for any film in Universal’s rickety monster franchise, yet the global debut was the biggest ever in Cruise’s lengthy career at the time. No further projects are in the works yet for this franchise, but despite the film being considered a box office bomb, the positive international response could mean an eventual resurrection of the Dark Universe franchise. Never say never.
The response to this popular franchise is clearly cooling in the U.S., as this, the fifth film in the series made $172 domestically when it released in 2017, but it brought in an incredible $622 million internationally. Those are all-around impressive figures, but consider that the movie cost $230 million to make, and expectations had been far higher given that the previous film, On Stranger Tides, made $240 million domestically six years prior, and the second film, Dead Man’s Chest, raked in a massive $423 million and change in the U.S. in 2006. The overseas success means the Pirates franchise is likely to rear its head once again, but the flailing U.S. numbers suggest that any future projects might lean toward appealing to international audiences.
With a strong $301 million international showing, this third film in the franchise (the second starring Vin Diesel), only brought in an abysmal $44 million in the U.S. upon its 2017 release. That’s less than half of the reported production budget for the action-packed film. Again, China accounted for much of the international bank for extreme-sports enthusiast/spy Xander Cage.
There wasn’t much critical hope for this CGI-laden 2016 release — after all, it is technically based on a video game, epic though that game may be. Still, the studio was no doubt hoping the MMORPG’s massive domestic following would equate to better numbers than its anemic $47 million total on a $160 million production budget. No matter, though. An impressive $386 million and change from overseas sales made this film an overall success, bringing in just shy of half a billion dollars worldwide. Warcraft 2 anyone?
This long-anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic captured plenty of buzz and critical acclaim upon its release. But sadly, it didn’t bring in an equal amount of dollars. In the U.S., the neo-noir sci-fi film made just $92.1 million, a fraction of its $150 million production budget. That doesn’t mean it was a bust, though. Internationally, the $167.2 million in earnings added some commercial recovery for the Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford-starring film. Interestingly, it wasn’t a strong showing in China that helped boost international numbers, as was the case with so many other films on this list, but rather a decent showing across the board in a wide number of countries.
Not even the beloved Matt Damon could convince Americans to come out and see this 2016 Chinese co-production, which made just $45 million domestically compared to $289 million internationally. It isn’t surprising in this case since the film was developed in a partnership between a Chinese studio an American one, combining the acting efforts of Damon with direction from China’s Zhang Yimou. Of the $289 million in international earnings, a reported $170 million came from China alone, though that was still considered an overall disappointment.
Jackie Chan remains solidly on Forbes’ list of highest paid actors, thanks to his popularity in Chinese films. But this 2017 American thriller, which stars Chan alongside Pierce Brosnan, suggests that the veteran actor might not have the same appeal in the U.S. he once did. It made $110 million worldwide, but only $34 million domestically. Not surprisingly, China contributed most to the international earnings, accounting for $80 million of the total international box office sales.
The 2013 sci-fi film by famed director Guillermo del Toro and starring Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam didn’t quite reap what it spent domestically, bringing in just $101.8 million. Thankfully for fans, viewers from around the world came out in droves to see the film, bringing in $309.2 million, including $112 million in China. So it’s no surprise that a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, followed, and had a similar box office result skewed to the international numbers, with $59.2 million domestically, and $290.1 million worldwide.
Even a star-studded cast of voice actors including Julia Roberts, Demi Lovato, Joe Manganiello, and Rainn Wilson wasn’t enough to pull in big numbers for this 2017 animated film, which earned $45 million domestically, compared to the $145 million in domestic totals from the first film. But it didn’t seem to matter since the movie brought in $152 million overseas. Combined with home video sales and lucrative merchandising, the embarrassing U.S. earnings won’t be turning the franchise blue any time soon.
As the sixth and final installment in this Milla Jovovich-starring sci-fi-horror franchise, the movie earned an awful $26 million at the domestic box office in its 2016 release. But internationally, it earned a whopping $285 million, $159 million from China alone, and $36 million in Japan. The American audience may be over this franchise, but the overseas audience made it the highest grossing film in the franchise.
As the second film in this franchise to make the list, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Americans have had enough of Captain Jack Sparrow. But while $241.1 million at the U.S. box office is nothing to sneeze at, that was still less than the reported $250 million production budget of the 2011 film. It’s also significantly less than the $804.6 million the film pulled in internationally. Combined, the movie still made over $1 billion.
Have Americans seen enough of John McClane? This 2013 Bruce Willis vehicle was the fifth film in the long-running franchise. But despite having had a cult following for decades, it only brought in $67.3 million at the box office. The $237.3 million in international earnings, however, far exceeded the production budget, worthy of a yippee-ki-yay or two.
Brad Pitt’s flowing blonde locks and dazzling moves in an iconic role, alongside action stars (at the time, anyway) Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom in a true epic seemed like the ingredients for box office success. And while this 2004 period war film did, in fact, bring in a relatively solid $133.4 million in the U.S., that was still less than the hefty production budget, and less than half of the $364 million it brought in internationally. A universal tale indeed.
On paper, this 2007 fantasy adventure starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, and based on the first of Philip Pullman’s popular His Dark Materials books, should have translated to box office gold. And it did — outside of the U.S., where the movie made $302.1 million, including over $53 million in the UK. But in the U.S., the critically maligned interpretation earned a measly $70.1 million. Here’s hoping the inevitable reboot (whether it’s the BBC series currently in the works, or some other iteration) tells this grand story better.
Domestic and international box office numbers sourced from Box Office Mojo.
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