By the time director Steven Spielberg walks the red carpet on Dec. 11 for the New York premiere of his animated movie The Adventures of Tintin, the film about a boy reporter in search of sunken treasure will already have sold well over $200 million in tickets—all far from the U.S. Tintin, featuring Jamie Bell and Daniel Craig, is based on the graphic novels by Belgian author and illustrator Georges Remi, better known as Hergé. The film opened first in Europe in late October, then, three weeks later, in Asia. When U.S. audiences get their first peek at Tintin and his fox terrier Snowy on Dec. 21, the film will already have played in more than 50 countries, including France, Germany, China, Japan, and even tiny Estonia.
U.S. studios are simply following the money. This year, moviegoers in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia will spend a combined $21 billion on movie tickets, nearly twice as much as the $12.2 billion spent in the U.S. and Canada, according to consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers. Box-office sales in some big emerging economies will grow by double digits annually through 2015, PwC predicts. “There’s tremendous expansion going on outside the U.S., which is a pretty mature market,” says Jeff Blake, vice-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Tintin’s distributor in most overseas markets.
Tintin was a natural for a European opening. The character has been a favorite among children and adults alike there since his debut in 1929. The 24-volume series features the Boy Scout-like Tintin with his trademark cowlick unmasking evil thugs engaged in drug smuggling, gun running, and other dastardly activities amid sweeping historical backdrops such as the Russian Revolution or the eve of World War II. The books, translated into about 80 languages, have sold 350 million copies worldwide. In France, where the film opened during a 10-day school break in October around La Toussaint, or All Saints’ Day, Tintin so far has grossed more than $50 million.
Paramount Pictures’ Tom Cruise action film Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, will open in France, Germany, and Japan ahead of its Dec. 21 release in the U.S. Sony plans to release the James Bond thriller Skyfall in Europe next October, two weeks ahead of the U.S. debut. That will boost ticket sales during midterm school breaks in the U.K., France, and elsewhere, Blake says. “We keep a very large calendar of events all over the world,” says David Kosse, president of international distribution at Universal Pictures.
Hollywood is already raking in foreign cash. In April, Universal released its car-racing heist movie Fast Five in the U.K., Australia, and South Korea before its U.S. release in late April. It collected $626 million in worldwide ticket sales, $416 million of which came from outside the U.S., according to researcher Box Office Mojo.
Studios are jostling to beat rivals into overseas exhibition, one of the industry’s few growth segments. Universal rushed to release Fast Five ahead of Paramount’s Thor in several markets. That movie, about a hammer-swinging god, took in $267.5 million of its $448 million global haul from foreign sales, according to Box Office Mojo.
Box office receipts outside North America will grow at an 8.1 percent compound annual rate through 2015, says PwC, compared with a 6 percent forecast for the U.S. But some regions will see more robust increases, with Central and Eastern Europe logging 11.5 percent annual growth and Asia 11.3 percent. “What Hollywood sells, and the rest of the world wants, are great franchises, great stars, and superstar directors like Steven Spielberg,” says Vincent Bruzzese, president of market research firm Ipsos OTX’s worldwide motion picture group. “You no longer need the buzz of a large opening in the U.S. for a film to sell well overseas.”