Hollywood is suddenly hot for worldwide movie releases — to a point.
Fox’s unprecedented worldwide booty from the boffo bow of comics sequel “X2: X-Men United” is traceable to a recent trend in which event pics open overseas in ever-closer proximity to their domestic openings.
Yet precious few pics are likely to mimic Fox’s unprecedented 58-country bow of “X2” on literally the same date in all territories.
In most cases, distribs will stagger international openings over three-week periods following pics’ domestic debuts, which nevertheless are often referred to as “day-and-date” rollouts.
“You capture the strategic advantage of staying close to the U.S. date but also account for seasonal differences and competitive circumstances in various markets,” explains Universal vice chairman Marc Shmuger.
Compressing the global release of a pic brings several perceived pluses for studios:
- circumventing piracy
- capitalizing on worldwide buzz and thereby enjoying some economies of scale
- gaining cover on the downside — if the film flops, at least it will have had a spectacular first weekend.
U plans an actual day-and-date bow of “The Hulk” only in Far East territories, where piracy concerns are most pressing.
“After that, it will open on the next weekend or the one after that in most countries,” Shmuger says. “That’s not exactly ‘day-and-date,’ but it will go pretty much worldwide within a very short amount of time.
“The idea is to get it out quickly in order to protect against piracy and take advantage of the domestic heat.”
Indeed, carefully coordinated domestic and international bows attempt to convert domestic buzz into worldwide box office.
Meanwhile, even worldwide openings coordinated over a three-week window are considered appropriate only for better-known event pics, usually sequels.
(In one exception, Sony was able to work a day-and-date strategy for last year’s “Spider-Man” because the comicbook-inspired central character was so well known in so many countries.)
Warner Bros. will release sequel actioner “The Matrix Reloaded” in 13 foreign countries May 15, the same Thursday on which the sequel actioner is set to unspool in the U.S. and Canada. But “Reloaded” won’t launch in many other international territories until a few weeks later.
“It’s an incredible film that’s taken an incredible amount of time and effort to pull all the pieces together, so we wanted to make sure we had enough time to exploit fully all the opportunities,” says Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, international distrib prexy at Warner Bros.
Language dubbing alone can be enormously time-consuming, and the distribution of promo materials also can take longer overseas, she notes.
Warners pegged “Matrix Reloaded” to a Thursday date because that’s when movies traditionally bow in certain countries. Coordinating the domestic launch to the same date helps thwart would-be pirates, execs believe.
That was also the thinking at Fox with last year’s “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.” And Warners’ domestic distribution prexy Dan Fellman hopes similarly to emulate the rival studio’s opening-weekend success.
“We looked at the business that they did (with ‘Clones’), and they had a $30 million Thursday — which I think is a pretty good Thursday,” Fellman says. “So we decided to make our own four-day weekend, which will be followed by the four-day Memorial Day weekend.”
Fellman expects to top 3,700 domestic playdates for the “Matrix” sequel, but probably won’t best the record 3,741 runs for “X2” because of the Warner pic’s R rating.
“Some theaters in small markets won’t play R pictures,” he notes.
It’s worth noting there was a time when even 3,000 playdates was considered a rare phenom. Will a similar battle now ensue for bragging rights on day-and-date bows?
“The practice will grow, but you have to have something that’s known worldwide,” figures Bruce Snyder, Fox domestic distribution prexy. “We were able to do it with ‘X2’ because it was known, but I don’t know whether we would have been able to do it with the first ‘X-Men.’ ”
Fox Intl. theatrical prexy Scott Neeson says the sequel “felt like it offered the opportunity for a worldwide event because it had such a hardy fan base.”
As a bonus, the approach neatly nixed any opportunity for pirating of the pic. “For the first time in memory, we had a major film go out without any pirated releasing,” Neeson notes with more than a tinge of understandable satisfaction.
Nadia Bronson, a former U exec now working as an independent distribution consultant at Sony and elsewhere, counts herself something of a conservative on day-and-date releasing.
“Unless it’s a hugely anticipated sequel, it’s a mistake,” Bronson says. “The press will know all about the picture, the exhibitor will know, but the public won’t.”
On the other hand, in future, seldom will there be a pic whose international bow comes six months or more after its domestic opening, as once was common practice. “Information travels fast now, and you lose the heat if you wait too long,” she acknowledges.
New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” rung up an amazing $162 million in worldwide B.O. its first weekend, although only 28 territories bowed the action sequel simultaneously with its domestic release. The minimajor initially reported a $149 million worldwide haul with “Towers,” but raised its official figure after deciding it had used inaccurate info on ticket prices in Korea and a few other territories.
Even using the higher figure, Fox nearly broke the “Towers” record by tackling a much more ambitious day-and-date bow than had ever been tried before. The studio’s early claim on the first weekend of the box office summer helped greatly.