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Hollywood Blockbusters Set International Box Office Record

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Daniel RadcliffeHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with Daniel Radcliffe. Last summer, Warner Bros.’ Anglo-American fantasy adventure boasted the highest-grossing international (five-day) opening weekend ever: $236 million ($394 million including the U.S. and Canada).
  • The Hollywood majors have set an impressive international box office record, providing further evidence that without the “overseas” market (Mexico is “overseas,” Canada ain’t) Hollywood would be a very different – i.e., far smaller and poorer – film factory.

Hooray for Hollywood: (Mostly) big-studio releases break box office records internationally

A total of $10.7 billion. That’s the 2009 international box office gross of Hollywood’s six major studios – vs. $10.6 billion earned domestically – according to early estimates published in The Hollywood Reporter. If accurate, that’s also an all-time record and an increase of 7 percent from 2008.

Tellingly, only three of 2009’s Top Ten North American (U.S. and Canada only) grossers – The Hangover, Star Trek, and Monsters vs. Aliens – pulled in more money domestically than internationally. (Remember: As far as the old Hollywood accounting system is concerned, Canada is the United States’ 51st state.)

So, what were the biggest worldwide blockbusters of 2009?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is no. 1 globally

Worldwide, the biggest box office hit during the 2009 calendar year was Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which took in $929.4 million. More than two-thirds of that amount ($627.4 million) came from outside North America. Directed by David Yates, the fantasy adventure features Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint.

In second place was 20th Century Fox’s animated feature Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, with $887.6 million. Of this total, $691 million (77.9 percent) – more than any other 2009 release – came courtesy of the international market. In the voice cast: John Leguizamo, Ray Romano, and Josh Peck. Director: Carlos Saldanha.

In third, Michael Bay’s crash-and-burn Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – the year’s biggest domestic blockbuster – raked in $835 million, of which $432.9 million (51.8 percent) internationally. In the cast of this DreamWorks/Paramount release: Megan Fox, Shia LaBeouf, and Josh Duhamel.

James Cameron’s futuristic fantasy adventure Avatar – which opened near the end of the year – came in fourth, with $760 million (not including the last few days in December), of which $476.2 million (62.7 percent) internationally. In the cast of this 20th Century Fox release: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver. (Update: Avatar went on to cross the $1 billion milestone worldwide and, a few weeks later, the $2 billion milestone.)

China’s biggest box office hit ever

Roland Emmerich’s 2012 was no. 5 with $734 million – of which $572.8 million (78 percent) overseas, where the apocalyptic flick became China’s biggest box office hit ever. In the cast of this Sony Pictures release: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Thandie Newton.

Rounding out 2009’s Top Ten Worldwide:

  • Pete Docter’s animated feature Up with $683 million ($390 million, or 57.1 percent, internationally). In the voice cast: Edward Asner and Christopher Plummer. A Walt Disney Studios release.
  • Chris Weitz’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon with $665.4 million ($381.5 million, or 57.3 percent, internationally). In the cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner. A (non-major) Summit Entertainment release.
  • The Ron Howard-Tom Hanks thriller Angels & Demons with $485.9 million ($352.6 million, or 72.6 percent, internationally). Also in the cast: Ayelet Zurer and Ewan McGregor. A Sony Pictures release.
  • Todd Phillips’ comedy The Hangover with $459.4 million ($182.1 million, or 39.6 percent, internationally). In the cast: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, and Justin Bartha. A Warner Bros. release.
  • Shawn Levy’s fantasy adventure Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian with $412.7 million ($235.4 million, or 57.1 percent, internationally). In the cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Amy Adams, and Robin Williams. A 20th Century Fox release.

Note: Bear in mind that, depending on the territory, Hollywood studios at times partner with/sell distribution rights to local companies.

The Hangover Justin Bartha Bradley CooperThe Hangover with Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms: The only title on the Top Ten Worldwide chart to earn more money domestically. On the Top Ten domestic chart, there were two other titles: Star Trek (66.8 percent domestically) and Monsters vs. Aliens (52 percent).

Foreign markets give Hollywood majors much-needed boost

The figures listed above make it clear that the major U.S. studios currently earn a crucial chunk of their box office cash overseas.

In fact, among the Top Ten worldwide 2009 releases, the only one that made more money domestically than abroad was Todd Phillips’ comedy The Hangover; even then, nearly 40 percent of its take originated outside the U.S. and Canada. And that’s why one shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the international market when it comes to which movies get produced and/or distributed by the American studios.

For instance, with the exception of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, in which Kristen Stewart plays the central role, and perhaps Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (no actual humans), last year’s biggest worldwide blockbusters were all focused on male characters, whether live-action or animated. Additionally, action and special effects were, as to be expected, most everywhere on screen.

(Admittedly, the Top Ten domestic chart is little different, featuring only one other actionless/special-effectsless – and female-centered – movie, Sandra Bullock’s The Blind Side.)

A little box office context

Now, no matter how remarkable these record-breaking international box office figures, they should be placed in context.

For starters, the U.S. dollar has lost quite a bit of its value in a number of key movie markets, which means larger dollar amounts after the conversion of local currencies.

Besides, the Hollywood studios won’t see all those billions pouring into their coffers, as local distributors, exhibitors, and governments will grab a sizable chunk of the international grosses. (As a general rule of thumb, around 40 percent of a movie’s international gross goes to the distributing/producing companies. In the domestic market, the general rule hovers around 50–55 percent.)

Christmas in Beverly Hills Christian De SicaChristmas in Beverly Hills with Christian De Sica. Italy’s biggest homemade box office hit of the year, this lowbrow comedy starring the son of Bicycle Thieves director Vittorio De Sica has been embroiled in controversy about its producers’ use of tax breaks.

Cinema life elsewhere: Local hits

If you live in the United States and/or get your news only from American publications/outlets, you’ll find it all but impossible to believe that there are lots of people making movies outside of Hollywood/the U.S. Even so, these movies do get made and some of them are very successful.

Via boxofficemojo.com, here is a list of a few major “box office countries” and their biggest local hits of the past year, in descending order:

  • Japan: Rookies: Sotsugyô, $88 million.
  • South Korea: Tidal Wave, $68 million.
  • China: The Founding of a Republic, $60.7 million.
  • The United Kingdom/Ireland (not including Warner Bros.’ British-based Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince): Slumdog Millionaire, $52.2 million.
  • France*: Le Petit Nicolas, $48.3 million.
  • Brazil: If I Were You 2, $32 million.
  • Spain: Agora, $30.2 million.
  • Italy: Christmas in Beverly Hills, $29.9 million.
  • Russia/CIS: Dark Planet, $21.8 million.
  • Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, $16.4 million (approximately $95 million worldwide).
  • India: Love Aaj Kal, $16.2 million.
  • Germany: Vicky the Viking, $13.6 million.
  • Mexico: Another Chicken Movie, $8.6 million.

* Includes former colonies Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, in addition to tiny Monaco.

Australia wasn’t included on the list above because its 2009 box office chart was wholly dominated by U.S. product.


“Hollywood Blockbusters: International Record” endnotes

Information about Christmas in Beverly Hills’ public money controversy can be found in The Guardian.

Daniel Radcliffe Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie image: Warner Bros.

Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, and Bradley Cooper The Hangover 2009 movie image: Warner Bros.

Christian De Sica Christmas in Beverly Hills movie image: Filmauro | Fast Lane Productions.

“Hollywood Blockbusters Set International Box Office Record” last updated in June 2022.

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