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Hollywood's foreign booty: New 'Pirates' film earned over $250 million abroad

Foreign audiences paid a quarter-billion dollars to see 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' on opening weekend, but the American box office didn't reach $100 million. How Hollywood is changing to appeal to international filmgoers.

By Staff writer / May 23, 2011

A huge figure of Captain Jack Sparrow, from the blockbuster film 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,' rides through a Tokyo street on a truck advertising the new film on May 18.

Shizuo Kambayashi/AP

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Los Angeles

The boffo overseas box office for “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” – which pulled in more than a quarter-billion dollars in its first week of foreign release – underlines the growing importance of the markets outside US borders.

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This is the biggest foreign opening weekend in movie history, according to studio figures.

International markets have always been a piece of the pie – but in the past 25 years, it’s grown from a quarter of the pie to nearly 70 percent. Another shift: movies used to open domestically before heading out for distant shores. But in the past few years, Hollywood has begun plying its wares in such far-flung places as China, Russia, and India before the films even bow in their own backyard.

“The international marketplace is vitally important,” says Paul Dergarabedian, box office expert for Hollywood.com. He points out that, with economies developing in more than a hundred nations around the globe, studios will tailor their product to those diverse audiences more than ever.

"Russia and China were Pirates's top territories with $28.6 million and $20 million, respectively. On Stranger Tides is already the top Pirates movie ever in China, and it's just a day or two away from reaching that mark in Russia as well," reports boxofficemojo.com, adding that it "set industry records in Latin America, the Middle East, Norway, Turkey and Ukraine."

The new “Pirates” film “made almost three times as much overseas as it did in the US,” says Mr. Dergarabedian, adding that this performance sends a powerful message to studio executives.

“When you start to see numbers like this from international markets, you don’t worry so much about how it did on opening weekend at home.” He points out that the latest “Pirates” offering “slightly underperformed here at home,” noting that the $90.1 million US box office for the movie is a bit under the targeted $100 million mark.

Films as ‘a global commodity’

While studios long have mounted country-specific advertising campaigns, international revenue like this – $256.3 million – Hollywood's foreign appeal: New 'Pirates' film opens abroad with $250 millionwill lead to much deeper adaptations, says Dergarabedian. “In the past, they might have changed American slang in a title or focused on a different cast member in the posters,” he says, “but now they’re doing things like casting with an eye for the international audience and telling stories about more exotic locales.”

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