“Godzilla” set the U.S. box office on fire on Friday, en route to what is shaping up to be a massive $98 million weekend for the monster movie, but for the film to make back its weight in gold, the monster’s iconic roar will need to resonate across the globe.
“Godzilla” arrives with a $160 million production budget and when marketing and other costs are taken into account, Legendary Pictures says that it will need to make $380 million globally in order to break even.
To that end, Legendary and Warner Bros. are betting that the fire-breathing beast can still incinerate cultural barriers. Since the 1954 Japanese original, countless sequels and reboots featuring the mutant creature with an appetite for destruction have further cemented its name in pop culture. Now the fate of the latest incarnation and any future sequels hinges on that international legacy.
“‘Godzilla’ has it all,” Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, president of international distribution at Warner Bros., said. “ It’s an event movie with big effects, creatures and disaster on a global scale, and these kinds of films tend to overperform internationally.”
Like last summer’s “Pacific Rim,” another Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. co-production, and even the critically derided 1998 “Godzilla” remake, this is a film that could double its domestic box office take in foreign markets. Monster movies travel well and there are few bigger monsters in movie history than the lethal reptile that gives “Godzilla” its title.
The iconic lizard already posted a huge $38 million in the U.S. on Friday.
“It’s a well-known character that’s enjoyed many iterations, so building awareness of the property won’t be difficult,” Rich Fineza, president of tracking at Worldwide Motion Picture Group, said. “The key will be seeing how the reboot presents something fresh and different.”
Analysts are bullish on “Godzilla’s” prospects. It is poised to perform better domestically than “Pacific Rim,” which was well-received overseas, but was undone by its $190 million production cost. It only managed to gross $101.8 million stateside, making its $411 million worldwide total something of a disappointment. Box office watchers are confidant that when the dust clears, the latest “Godzilla” will capitalize on strong reviews and an evocative marketing campaign to the tune of more than $500 million worldwide.
By opening in the middle of May, the film has a month-long jump on the World Cup, lest soccer prove a more formidable foe for “Godzilla” than even Mothra.
So cue the global assault. The picture opens in nearly every major foreign territory save for China and Japan this weekend. Among the 64 countries where it will debut are such key markets as Russia, Australia, Mexico and Latin America. The picture is set to unspool across more than 15,500 screens beginning on Wednesday, about 50 percent of which will be 3D capable.
Internationally, “Godzilla” has already racked up $43 million in ticket sales.
When “Godzilla” finally touches down in Japan on July 25, the response could be intense. The affinity for the nuclear-age creature could make Japan one of the film’s most robust box-office markets. The Toho Company, the local film distributor that first cooked up the “King of the Monsters,” will handle the rollout.
“Between China, Japan, Korea and the other Asian countries, you’re going to get a lot of support because of the history of this character,” Fineza said.
The film’s backers believe its China premiere will push it to greater heights of profitability. The picture is slated to debut in the world’s second largest film market on June 13 and will have at least a week to itself as the only major U.S. release opening in the people’s republic. That means it will premiere in the Asian stronghold roughly a month after it screens in most foreign territories, a short enough delay that piracy won’t be a significant problem. China has a flexible appreciation of the virtues of copyright protection, to put it mildly, but the picture’s primordial protagonist may be helpful in that regard.
“This is very much a film that’s a cinematic experience,” Bruce Nash, founder of the box office tracking site The Number, said. “That means the film has some immunity when it comes to pirated copies.”
Also helping matters will be Legendary Pictures’ efforts to build a foothold in China. The entertainment company was one of the first Hollywood players to form a joint venture in the country when it launched Legendary East in 2011, and while the film is not being distributed by that venture, it helps that the company has boots on the ground and a team in China to lend advice and assistance.
Legendary’s recent track record is another reason for optimism. “Pacific Rim” racked up more than $110 million in China, making it one of the highest grossing foreign releases of 2013. Analysts say a similar figure is attainable for “Godzilla.”
Clearly, it’s good to be the king.
CLARIFICATION: In an earlier version, the amount needed for “Godzilla” to break even was given as $450 million by a source close to the company. Legendary says that figure is incorrect.