There’s been a lot made in recent years about the exit of the Chinese market as a viable global showcase for film releases to build their bottom line within. However, the shifts of the post-COVID entertainment landscape seem to suggest something else, too- the US market is no longer the make-or-break point for many releases, either. Brandon Blake, our industry insider and an entertainment lawyer at Blake & Wang P.A, explore this interesting new angle for us.
Even at the A-list tier, we’ve seen plenty of evidence in the last year that a film can succeed very well indeed globally without its US theatrical release propping up the bottom line. Take Lionsgate’s action-packed Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre as an example. With a solid performance in Australia, Russia, and even Saudi Arabia, it has managed to amass $29M before a US-side distributor (let alone release, which is pegged for March) was announced. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande did similar, pulling in $13M internationally after its 2022 Berlinale screening, and seeing Australia become its key theatrical market. In the States, it went straight to Hulu, with no theatrical release.
Does the market remain important? Of course- it’s one of the largest in the world. But releases no longer die or thrive based on how their US-launch lands. Indeed, one glance at the deals being made at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival was enough to show that the once ever-present guaranteed domestic release clause in contracts is no longer as dominant as it once was.
When it comes to theatrical performance, the US no longer provides a holistic idea of overall potential. Domestic success doesn’t always translate to foreign performance, while genres like thriller and action perform well everywhere. Plus, of course, let’s not forget the amount of films pitched only to a US-centric market. 80 for Brady pulled in massive domestic support, but the rest of the world has little interest in an NFL-themed dramedy well rooted in local culture.
And in the post-pandemic world, market conditions for theatrical releases can be wildly different from country to country. All it takes is one market boycott (as with Russia currently) for smaller indie films to thrive without blockbuster interference, or one set of theatrical closures (as recently seen in China, Australia, and Hong Kong) to kill what should have been a solid release.
A big US release can still be one of the most useful leg-ups a film can get- strong theatrical commitment in the domestic market can help boost international numbers, too. But the days when success or failure was wholly dependent on the market is gone, especially for indie releases that may not even opt for full theatrical releases. Instead, we see the arena for smart, globally-cognizant release and marketing plans that cater to local tastes, as well as international dazzle, being the new way forward for small and mid-tier releases, at least. It’s an intriguing shift, and one with much potential to make the indie film world a more diverse and holistic place.