The latest cinematic offering from Dwayne Johnson, Skyscraper, opened in North America on July 13 to a box office total of $24.9 million and was greeted with headlines about how the film was a financial failure.
On the surface it may indeed look like the latest action film from the man formerly known as The Rock might be labeled as such. The film had the second lowest opening of Johnson’s past 10 films, beaten only by last summer’s beached whale, Baywatch. In addition, the film fell 54% this past weekend and sits at a domestic cumulative gross of $47 million. At this rate, even breaking the $65 million barrier will prove a hurdle that The Rock can’t overcome.
The reasons for the disappointing grosses for Skyscraper on these shores are many. There is the overexposure factor as the movie is the fifth film starring Johnson to be released in 15 months. In addition, the movie might have felt too foreign to North American audiences, being set in Hong Kong and featuring many Asian actors. Also, Johnson’s films tend to gross higher when they have a bankable co-star such as Kevin Hart or the crew from The Fast and the Furious franchise.
But if we look past the U.S. and head east, it’s clear where the ultimate success or failure of Skyscraper lies. As mentioned, the film is set in Asia with names recognizable in those territories, but less so here. Johnson’s last film, Rampage, is a good comparison. Seventy-six percent of that film’s worldwide box office gross came from the international market. While its $100 million domestic gross was considered acceptable, its $326 million foreign take turned it into a moneymaker, even at a reported budget of $125 million, which incidentally is the same as Skyscraper‘s.
It should be noted that Skyscraper continues a trend toward an ever-increasing percentage of worldwide box office coming from overseas territories. Once upon a time in Hollywood, the ultimate success of a film depended solely on the domestic market and the international territories were almost an afterthought. Still, to this day, headlines proclaim success or failure of a film after the domestic opening weekend, somehow ignoring the international market and its 55%-65% or more of total worldwide gross.
Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst for comScore, notes, “This year even an undisputed mega-hit like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has earned more than double its North American gross in the international territories and that enabled the film to push past the elusive $1 billion dollar mark worldwide.”
Furthermore, 2017 films such as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Transformers: The Last Knight, The Fate of the Furious, and Ghost in the Shell all saw their international box office take account for greater than 75% of their respective worldwide grosses. North American moviegoers may be getting tired of seeing Johnny Depp dressing up like Keith Richards but that isn’t the case overseas.
Yes, Skyscraper will only end up around $65 million in North America and at a reported budget of $125 million that would generally be considered a failure. But those who follow Hollywood have to remember that in many instances we are but one of many worldwide territories. Skyscraper opened to a hefty $48 million in China this past weekend and was one of the few Hollywood titles ever to play during the country’s annual black-out period of July and August. Overall, the film amassed $75 million overseas this past weekend and its global total stands at $182 million, 74% of which has come from international territories. If the film had opened to $75 million in North America it would have been heralded as an unadulterated success.
Those watching Hollywood need to understand that North America is no longer the box office make-or-break it once was. As difficult as it is for some long-time Hollywood pundits to accept, it’s the new reality. Domestic opening weekends now only tell a part of the tale. We aren’t anywhere near the point where we are no longer atop the global box office heap but as films continue to reap 60%-75% of their box office totals from countries not named the US or Canada look for Hollywood to tailor more films, especially action titles and sequels, to foreign markets as Universal did with Skyscraper.
As that happens, watch for Hollywood to concentrate even more on Shanghai, Seoul and Sao Paulo than they do San Francisco, Seattle and Saskatoon.
All box office information courtesy of comScore and Box Office Mojo
Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images