Over the past couple of years, and especially in the last 12 months, British producers have supplied a remarkably consistent run of hits, not just to U.K. audiences but to the international market.
In 2011, “The King’s Speech” and “The Inbetweeners Movie” held two of the top three spots in the U.K. box office chart. That success, and that variety, have continued into 2012, with pics such as “The Iron Lady,” “The Woman in Black” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”
With international buyers on the hunt for the next modestly-priced British crowd-pleaser, Variety analyzes the foreign B.O. patterns of recent Brit hits, some of which are still in release, and looks ahead at some U.K. projects bidding to continue this boffo trend.
“Johnny English Reborn”
Budget: $45 million
Worldwide: $153.1 million
Rowan Atkinson is a genuine international star with virtually no American fans who reaches parts of the globe most other Brits can’t penetrate. “Johnny English Reborn” proved he remains beloved in Blighty, with a spectacular $32 million take, and commands a big fanbase in Germany, where his rubber-faced slapstick delivered $14 million, ahead even of Australia, where broad Brit humor always plays well. But the Gauls don’t get it, with the paltry $2.8 million in France dwarfed by boffo results from a curious collection of tiny Euro territories — the Netherlands ($4.5 million), Switzerland ($3.9 million) and Finland ($3.3 million). Perhaps the most notable returns come from the former British colonies in Asia — Malaysia ($5.1 million), Singapore ($600,000) and Hong Kong ($3.2 million) — which usually don’t figure much in the global results for U.K. films, but where Atkinson is clearly a star.
Star territories: Malaysia and Singapore, $5.7 million
“The Woman in Black”
Budget: $15 million
Worldwide: $124 million
The period chiller has done 70% of its business so far in the U.K. ($33.5 million) and the U.S. (its North American take was $54.2 million). Mexico, where they love ghost stories, is the pic’s third-biggest territory, with a standout $9.1 million. That’s followed by Russia, another strong market for horror, which was boosted by a visit from star Daniel Radcliffe. He traveled extensively to support the pic, and that paid dividends in Spain, Germany and France. But the poor Italian return left local distrib Videa scratching its head, and the pic didn’t work at all in Scandinavia, where horror is always tough.
Star territory: Mexico, $9.1 million
“The Iron Lady”
Budget: $20 million
Worldwide: $113.4 million
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher proved as compelling for audiences as for Oscar voters, even though the critics didn’t always agree. With $113 million worldwide, “The Iron Lady” matched Pathe’s benchmark of “The Queen,” which took $116 million. But country by country, the pattern is very different. Phyllida Lloyd’s pic was weaker in those countries where Thatcher’s political negatives are strongest: the U.S., France, Argentina and the U.K. ($14.9 million). It reached just $30 million in North America against $56 million for “The Queen” and also underperformed in France, with $4.7 million versus $6.9 million. The U.K. and Argentina were on a par for both pics. By contrast, “The Iron Lady” more than doubled “The Queen” in Japan, Spain, Brazil, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Greece, Poland and Taiwan. The overall Scandinavian figure of $8.1 million is the most striking, despite sniffy local critics, and will likely place the pic in indie top three of 2012. “The Scandinavians just waved off the lukewarm reviews and said, I really want to see that,” says Jim Frazee of distrib Scanbox.
Star territory: Scandinavia, $8.1 million
“The Inbetweeners Movie”
Budget: $6 million
Worldwide: $91.7 million
No surprise that “The Inbetweeners Movie,” a spinoff from the Channel 4 teen sitcom, has proved a box office giant only in the U.K. Australia provided the loyal support it always gives to Brit comedy, with a respectable $8.9 million, and Germany also showed surprisingly willing with $3.1 million, plus a healthy $1 million from neighboring Austria. Pic only got released in a handful of other territories, with the U.S. yet to come via microplayer Wrekin Hill. But C4, whose DVD arm invested $5.5 million in the pic, won’t care — with 2.5 million DVD units sold in Blighty, delivering around $30 million net to add to its estimated $10 million profit from theatrical, plus TV income to come, “The Inbetweeners Movie” is surely the web’s most profitable film ever.
Star territory: U.K., $74.3 million
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
Budget: $32 million
Worldwide: $80.8 million
This stylish adaptation of John Le Carre’s Cold War classic was Studiocanal’s biggest-ever hit in Blighty, with $22.4 million. It didn’t quite fly to the same extent elsewhere, with Focus pulling down a similar $24 million Stateside. The $5.1 milion return from Studiocanal’s French homeland was solid, but the best result came from Sweden, thanks to the pulling power of local helmer Tomas Alfredson, where the $2.7 million total was more than double the rest of Scandinavia’s take.
Star territory: Sweden. $2.7 million
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
Budget: $13 million
Worldwide: $66 million
Fox Searchlight’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” with its carefully calibrated cast of frisky seniors in an upbeat Indian setting, passed the $65.5 million international benchmark set by “Calendar Girls” even before the North American release May 4. The boffo $30 million gross in the U.K. was bested by an even more impressive $17.2 million and still counting in Australia, more than double the “Calendar Girls” tally. It’s rare for Down Under to top 50% of the U.K., but they love Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in Oz. Outside the U.K., Australia and New Zealand (a very healthy $3.2 million and holding), the pic is more of a specialty play, with decent returns from Germany ($4.4 million) and Spain ($3.4 million). The positive foreign cume, with word-of-mouth generating unusually strong holdovers, encouraged Searchlight to accelerate its platform release in the U.S. Arthouse releases in Latin America and Asia will take their cue from the U.S.
Star territory: Australia, $17.2 million and counting
Budget: $15 million
Worldwide: $54.3 million
Danish helmer Lone Scherfig’s spin on the bestselling contemporary romance by David Nicholls just about punched its weight for Focus, despite tepid reviews and negative word-of-mouth from the book’s ardent fans, who were never happy with Anne Hathaway as the scruffy English heroine. The popularity of the novel drove a healthy U.K. result of $13 million and a $7 million showing in Germany, though that was offset by a modest $13 million from the U.S. Scherfig suffered a personal backlash in her home territory of Denmark, where the film’s $522,000 gross was nearly three times worse than its $1.44 million in neighboring Sweden. The $3.5 million gross in Russia was an encouraging sign that this macho action-driven market is started to show a taste for gentler fare. Focus was equally pleased with the $1 million Russian tally for “Jane Eyre.”
Star territory: Germany, $7 million
Budget: $6.5 million
Worldwide: $20.3 million
Steve McQueen’s sophomore film about a New York sex addict didn’t feel like a hit after drawing a blank during awards season, but a lot of foreign distribs are delighted. Marc Smit of Cineart in Benelux describes the pic as “perfect for us,” with lots of free publicity around the subject matter and graphic sex delivering $1.1 million across Belgium and the Netherlands. France, with $3.6 million, outperformed the U.K. (a healthy $3 million). Even the Italians, whose art biz is in disarray, managed a robust $1.4 million.
Star territory: Benelux, $1.1 million
Budget: $7.5 million
Worldwide: $19 million
“Another Year” matched “Happy-Go-Lucky,” and only “Secrets and Lies,” with $33 million worldwide, has done better for Mike Leigh. But proportionately, “Another Year” delivered his best ever result outside Britain and America, with 67% of its box office coming from the rest of the world. France, with $3.8 million, was the top territory, but the real triumph was in Norway, where Leigh is a cinematic god; the pic grossed $982,000 there, a staggering 5% of its worldwide take.
Star territory: Norway, $982,000
“We Need to Talk About Kevin”
Budget: $7.5 million
Worldwide: $8.7 million
It’s been a slow burn for Lynne Ramsay’s comeback. It sold out worldwide, but some major territories, including Japan and Germany, have yet to release the pic a year after its world premiere at Cannes in 2011. The U.K. delivered a record result for Artificial Eye, largely thanks to great reviews and the popularity of Lionel Shriver’s bestseller. Book-group support also played a big part in Australia, where the $930,000 gross was a rich reward for Hopscotch’s niche arthouse strategy. Mexico parlayed the Oscar buzz around star Tilda Swinton into a solid $400,000 return, but the pic’s failure to get any actual nominations stalled its U.S. prospects (pic took in $1.3 million in North Amerca). The paltry $87,000 gross in Italy, despite Swinton’s high local profile from her previous pic “I Am Love,” highlights just how brutal the Italian arthouse biz has become.
Star territory: U.K., $3.5 million
“Caught in Flight”
Buyers have already gone wild for this Princess Diana pic, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, with Naomi Watts as the doomed royal diva entangled in an impossible love affair with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. Hopes are high that this could hit the same jackpot previous pics about Brit icons such as “The Queen” and “The Iron Lady,” but with a younger romantic skew.
Pete Travis directs Karl Urban as the eponymous supercop who dispenses justice on the streets of an ultra-violent city in the future. Ambitious attempt by the U.K.’s DNA Films to deliver the kind of high-concept sci-fi action for which American producers are better known.
Sales: IM Global
Colin Firth tests his newfound star power in this remake of the Michael Caine art-heist caper, directed by Michael Hoffman and co-starring Cameron Diaz.
Sales: Crime Scene
The title matches the anticipation among buyers about Mike Newell’s version of the Charles Dickens novel. With Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger as the youthful leads and support from Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes and Sally Hawkins, this is well positioned to feed the worldwide taste for classy Brit-lit costume fare, particularly if it gets Oscar heat.
“Hyde Park on the Hudson”
Aiming for that “King’s Speech” groove with extra transatlantic stylings, this drama directed by Roger Michell explores a key meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and King George VI (Samuel West) just before WWII at FDR’s country retreat outside New York.
From Entertainment, the U.K. distrib of “The Inbetweeners Movie,” comes another teen sex comedy, this time with a fantasy twist. When word spreads in a seaside town that a werewolf is preying on virgins, three teenage boys decide their only hope of survival is to pop their cherries before the next full moon.
Sales: West End
“A Most Wanted Man”
Another Le Carre spy thriller, this time set in contemporary Hamburg, produced by the novelist’s sons, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and directed by Anton Corbijn.
This latest bait for the “Marigold Hotel” posse has added curiosity value as the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman. The grand dame of “Downton Abbey,” Maggie Smith, who is box office gold in Australia, stars alongside Michael Gambon, Tom Courtney and Billy Connolly in this tale of musical hi-jinks in a retirement home.
“The Railway Man”
Firth again, WWII again, in the true story of a British officer who was tortured by the Japanese and lived with his torment for decades until his wife (Nicole Kidman) persuaded him to seek reconciliation with one of his captors.
Sales: Lionsgate Intl.
“Romeo and Juliet”
Julian Fellows, hot from “Downton Abbey,” rewrites Shakespeare’s teen romance for the “Twilight” audience. Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth are the star-crossed lovers, Carlo Carlei directs.
“Song for Marion”
Another pitch for the senior audience with a heartwarming tearjerker, directed by Paul Andrew Williams, about a grumpy old man (Terence Stamp) who joins a choir when his wife (Vanessa Redgrave) gets cancer.
More cops ‘n’ robbers with this bigscreen reboot of the classic Brit TV cop police series from the 1970s. Ray Winstone and Ben Drew are the hard-as-nails detectives in London’s Flying Squad, Nick Love directs.
“Under the Skin”
Arty sci-fi from director Jonathan Glazer, with Scarlett Johansson as a comely alien luring hitchhikers to their grisly deaths in the Scottish Highlands.
“Welcome to the Punch”
Too many “Lock Stock” ripoffs brought the Brit gangster pic into disrepute. But the highly rated young writer-director Eran Creevy and exec producer Ridley Scott are hoping to revitalize the genre with this slick thriller about a cop (James McAvoy) who gets one last shot to take down a notorious criminal.
Sales: IM Global