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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.

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The addition of global superstar Penelope Cruz to the latest installment in the pirate franchise is just one example. The recent “Fast Five” – the fifth piece of the “Fast and Furious” cars-and-country-roads saga – filmed in Brazil.

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Animated films can go even further. The second installment in the “Cars“ saga, opening in the US June 24, subs in vehicles that appeal to local audiences in each country. “Films are a global commodity,” Dergarabedian adds.

The eye-popping international numbers of the latest “Pirates” debut owe as much to the growth of the movie exhibition infrastructure around the world as to the enticing power of snappy new technology like 3D and Imax. China, for instance, is reportedly adding some four new movie theaters a day, says an article in International Herald Tribune, vastly expanding the sheer number of people who will turn out for a new film.

The globalization of the film industry will benefit moviegoers, says storyteller and former Disney animator Jason Lethcoe. “We are in a very exciting time with the emergence of a more international film,” he says.

“America has a long and somewhat myopic history of telling uniquely American kinds of stories,” says Mr. Lethcoe. “Anything that makes us more aware of what’s being done in other countries is a good thing.”

An appeal to the ‘lowest common denominator’?

Not everyone is quite as upbeat about the rising impact of international money.

Wider demand does not create a better product, says Wheeler Winston Dixon, a film professor at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and co-author – with Gwendolyn Foster – of the upcoming book “21st Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation.” [Editor's note: The original version of this sentence left off co-author Gwendolyn Foster.]

By necessity, internationally-targeted blockbusters play to the “lowest common denominator,” he says. Explosions and action sequences need no subtitles, after all.

He likens it to the saturation marketing practiced back in 1950s Hollywood. “They opened a film like ‘I was a Teenage Werewolf’ in as many theaters as possible in order to get as many people in before word-of-mouth – about just how bad the film really was – could spread,” Professor Dixon says with a laugh.

The tactic here is very similar, beefed up with the new lure of 3D and big screens, Dixon says, “but the actual quality of the movies is going down.”


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