June 22, 2009 / 1:46 AM / 10 years ago

Simultaneous worldwide release a dilemma for films

AMSTERDAM (Hollywood Reporter) - Two of this summer’s biggest hit movies illustrate the lucrative possibilities of a simultaneous worldwide release — as well as its limits.

Sony greenlighted its Tom Hanks starrer “Angels & Demons” — based on author Dan Brown’s less well-known follow-up to “The Da Vinci Code” — specifically because of its international expectations. Staging a simultaneous worldwide bow in May, the results haven’t disappointed: “Angels” has soared to $329 million internationally, combining with a more earthbound $128 million in North America.

“The world has become so small, and a film like ‘Angels & Demons’ is able to tap into a worldwide audience,” said Sony worldwide distribution president Rory Bruer, who’s in the Netherlands here this week for the annual Cinema Expo confab. “But you have to look at what’s best for the picture.”

Indeed, though executives at all studios now routinely scrutinize foreign boxoffice projections when developing projects and planning campaigns, one need look no further than “Terminator Salvation” to realize some films will always elude easy alignment around the world.

Warner Bros. opened the iconic sci-fi sequel Stateside on May 21, but Sony — which holds most foreign rights on “Salvation” — held it back a couple weeks in most foreign territories to allow “Angels” a more open playing field.

“Salvation” has earned $200 million internationally, so it’s hard to see where the delay hurt its worldwide haul.

On an industrywide basis, domestic and international receipts now roughly even out. But “Angels” shows how disproportionately lucrative foreign campaigns can be, while Paramount’s sci-fi reboot of “Star Trek” — a $239 million domestic grosser that’s done just half as much business internationally — shows how individual films still can defy glib generalizations,

Still, a growing global trend is clearly afoot.

“There certainly isn’t going to be as much growth domestically as there is going to be internationally in the years ahead,” Bruer noted. “Russia and the Eastern block countries are just exploding; Asia as well and even the Middle East. There’s also some growth in Africa.”

Among other generally held beliefs: Big stars and big concepts do particularly well overseas, representing prime candidates for “day and date” releasing; comedies, not so much.

In fact, more modestly budgeted pictures in a range of genres are less likely to see simultaneous domestic and international openings. It’s harder to get dates synched up around the world for smaller films, because studios need to be careful of running into recently launched tentpoles.

Budget considerations aside, sci-fi is perhaps the genre most likely to see a date-and-date global bow, because such pics seem at risk of cyber piracy.

Family films may be the least likely genre to get the day-and-date treatment.

“Family films need a corridor — you want the kids out of school and the parents available,” Warners international distribution president Veronika Kwan-Rubinek said. “There are different corridors in different countries, due to school holidays and so forth.”

Yet even among family-oriented pictures, tentpoles such as Warners’ July 15 opener “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” are going to get global bows, she noted.

Fox will release its 3-D animated feature “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” in most countries around the world within a day or so of its July 1 domestic bow. Getting 3-D screens in place has been a challenge.

“The deployment of 3-D screens is far less internationally than it is domestically,” Fox international distribution co-president Paul Hanneman noted.

Fox expects to have 1,500-2,000 3-D screens in place for “Dawn,” spread among 11,000 international screens set to play the movie.

Even with more conventional films, Europe occasionally has been a regional challenge for day-and-day campaign as locals have tended to opt for beach holidays over cinema outings — a cultural distinction still well in evidence in Italy. But these days, competition from outdoor activities is primarily a problem only in May and early June.

Meantime, for all the recent momentum toward global releasing, worldwide events such as the Summer Olympics will continue to unsettle such planning at regular intervals.

In fact, few expect to see many ambitious day-and-date openings next June or July. That’s when a global audience will be plopped in front of their televisions to watch soccer’s World Cup.

Editing by Dean Gooodman at Reuters

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