Waging ‘Wars’ on foreign soil

Lucasfilm, Fox lay groundwork so o'seas B.O. exceeds U.S. numbers

‘STAR WARS’ BY THE NUMBERS
MERCHANDISE
Amount generated worldwide from the first “Star Wars” in 1977: $500 million
Amount generated by Lucasfilm worldwide to date: $9+ billion

SPECIAL EFFECTS AND SOUND
ILM and Skywalker Sound 2004 revenues: $275 million
Source: Variety

PRODUCTION COST
“Star Wars”: $10 million
“Revenge of the Sith”: $115 million

MARKETING
Cost to promote the first two waves of “Star Wars” in April-July 1977: $4 million
Cost of marketing “Revenge of the Sith” in 2005: $95 million

FIRST DAY GROSS
“Star Wars”; May 25, 1977: $254,809
“Revenge of the Sith”; May 19, 2005: $50,000,000

STAR WARS DVD SALES
“Phantom Menace”: $340 million
“Attack of the Clones”: $250 million
“Star Wars Trilogy”: $232 million

VIDEOGAMES
LucasArts’ 2004 annual revenue: $100 million
Estimated No. of videogames sold since 2001: 9 million units
Source: NPD and Variety

— Compiled by Anthony D’Alessandro

As the veterans of foreign “Wars” will attest, the overseas box office for the first “Star Wars” trilogy never hit galactic heights — at least compared with its domestic take. It’s a shocking piece of B.O. trivia considering the saga and sci-fi successors like “E.T” alerted studio execs that the foreign market was an essential component of a tentpole’s blueprint.

Though episodes four through six broke records in major territories, their foreign take only equaled 63% of their domestic run. Some distributors attribute the shortfall to the weak international exhibition infrastructure of the late ’70s and early ’80s in places like Latin America and Asia. However, B.O. history shows big pics of the day were already surpassing their domestic runs. James Bond films were surefire overseas hits: In 1979, “Moonraker” reeled in an overseas gross that was 200% of its domestic haul.

With the new “Star Wars” trilogy, Lucasfilm and Fox Intl. have achieved their goal of having foreign exceed domestic. The overseas B.O. for “The Phantom Menace” repped a stellar 113% of its domestic take; “Attack of the Clones” 109%; and “Revenge of the Sith” is close to 100% through June 1.

Much of the groundwork for the record-breaking runs started with the reissues of the original trio and the global marketing plan for “Phantom.”

“We knew with ‘Phantom’ that we could achieve a certain level of box office based on core male fans,” says Jim Ward, Lucasfilm’s prexy of distribution and marketing. “We wanted to grow the brand over time with a new generation of fans, so we talked to kids in an aggressive way as well as women.”

While an array of merchandising partners had kids hooked with items ranging from shampoo to action figures, Lucasfilm targeted women through the glossies — typically not associated with the saga’s marketing machine. Other femme-aimed promotions included museum tours of the pic’s costumes and an Yves Saint Laurent makeup line inspired by Queen Amidala.

While the marketing campaigns for the original trilogy were tailored for each territory, the new trio benefited from brand awareness. As such, Lucasfilm employed a global print campaign, designed by Drew Struzan. The universal hook for “Sith” is that it is the final “Star Wars” film and it reveals the origins of Darth Vader, who is at the center of the new campaign.

While “Phantom” was rolled out gradually overseas from summer into fall, the last two “Star Wars” pics were global events, opening day and date with domestic, and posting record bows.

Ward points out that the company was impressed by the franchise’s worldwide resilience after the back-to-back video releases of the trilogy in 1995 and 1997, each wave selling more than 30 million units globally.

One of the prime territories that evolved for the franchise was Eastern Europe. When “Star Wars” first unspooled abroad, Fox Intl. sidestepped the Eastern bloc exhibs since they were notorious for buying prints at a flat fee and copying them. With the cinema boom there, the new trilogy drew a faithful following.

The grosses for “Clones” dipped an average of 36% from “Phantom” in Western Europe, Latin American and Asia, but Eastern Europe remained unchanged in its B.O. for each ($14 million). Russia’s grosses have steadily climbed, with $2 million for “Phantom,” $5 million for “Clones” and $8 million for “Sith.”

Japan has always been the saga’s highest-grossing territory outside the U.S. Former Fox Intl. prexy Jean Louis Ruben — who oversaw the original trilogy — knew the Japanese would swoon for the pic’s samurai themes and Kurosawa influences. The franchise has amassed nearly $300 million there.

While most of Western Europe and English-speaking territories always have been keen for the saga, Italy has been the most difficult market, mostly because sci-fi doesn’t play there.

“Menace” and “Clones” posted grosses of $13 million and $8 million, respectively, and are outranked by the country’s highest-grossing sci-fi fave “The Matrix Reloaded” ($17 million). The $3.5 million Italian bow for “Sith” is considered weak for a summer tentpole. Last year, “Spider-Man 2” and “Troy” opened to $9 million and $6 million, respectively.

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