2013 in Review: Box Office Hits and Misses Around the World
12:00 AM PST 1/3/2014 by THR Staff
Russia mined Stalingrad for box office gold, a Swedish biopic about a 1960s jazz singer hit number two on the charts and a politically-incorrect comedy about German school kids got top grades. But a Japanese remake of Unforgiven faced harsh retribution, the French had a rare off year and Australian audiences thought a promising new comedy just wasn’t cricket. Here are the most surprising successes and shocking failures from international films this year.
Germany: School Comedy “Fack Ju Gohte” Does the Sums
For two years running, the director/actor team of helmer Bora Dagtekin and star Elyas M’Barek has topped the German charts with politically incorrect comedies. Their follow up to 2012 hit Turkish for Beginners was the schooldays laffer Fack Ju Gohte that opened in November and was closing in on a $50 million gross just as German school kids take off for the Christmas holidays.
China: “Finding Mr. Right” Taps Mainland’s New Rich
Low budget local language comedies continue to rule the Chinese box office and the breakout hit this year was romcom Finding Mr. Right, from director Xue Xiaolu. The $5 million feature pulled in $85.4 at the Chinese tills. Star Tang Wei, best known outside China for her role in Ang Lee's Lust, Caution, plays a city girl who is pure New China, a rich man's mistress obsessed with material wealth, who comes to Seattle to have her lover's baby.
Argentina: GOOOOOL for Campanella’s “Foosball”
After winning the Oscar forThe Secret in Her Eyes, Argentine director Juan Jose Campanella tried something completely different: a 3D animated kid’s film about soccer. Foosball was a massive hit, scoring $14.2 million at the local box office, making it the country’s number three film, just behind Monsters University and Despicable Me 2.
India: “Run Milka Run” Finishes Strong
The sports biopic genre is only beginning to be tapped in Bollywood. Last year hit Paan Singh Tomar, about a champion athlete turned real-life bandit, was one of the first. But sports drama hit broke new records with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Run Milkha Run, the story of Indian sprinter Milkha Singh, aka the “Flying Sikh.” Star Farhan Akhtar underwent grueling physical training to lend credibility to his performance which won over critics and audiences alike. Run Mikha Run easily crossed the coved film 1 billion rupee ($16.7 million) mark in general release.
Mexico: No Guidance Needed For “Instructions Not Included”
Mexican TV star Eugenio Derbez conquered the big screen with his directorial debut Instructions Not Included. The bilingual comedy about a single dad who fears losing his daughter after the runaway mum returns to claim her, earned $47.4 million at the Mexican box office to become the top-grossing Spanish-language film of all time at the North American box office.
Canada: “Louis Cyr” Gets Hero’s Welcome
French-Canadian filmmakers are enjoying their Hollywood moment, with the likes of Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners), Jean-Marc Vallee (The Dallas Buyers Club) and Ken Scott (Delivery Man) all moving south. But up north this year, the break-out hit was Louis Cyr, a period drama from Daniel Roby about the Quebec-born textile worker who becomes a global celebrity as the world’s strongest man. The film hefted an impressive $4 million at the multiplex, mostly in French-speaking Canada.
Korea: A Small Budget "Miracle"
Miracle in Cell No. 7 by Lee Hwang-kyung became the third highest grossing film in South Korea’s box office history -- or the second highest among homespun films on home turf -- with 12.8 million admissions ($86.5 million or 91.4 billion won). Other titles that hit the landmark 10-million admission mark have mostly been star-studded, big-budget actioners, and so this human drama distributed by a smaller company proved to be a sleeper hit -- and remains the least expensive film to draw so many admissions in the country.
Thailand: "Pee Mak" Makes Local Box Office History
Director Banjong Pisanthanaku's Pee Mak Phra Khanong, a big-screen rom-com take on an many-times-retold Thai ghost story, struck a major nerve in Thailand. The film became the country's all-time highest-grossing film ever, pulling in $35 million. The prior record holder was The Legend of Suriyothai with $11 million, followed by Transformers 3 at $10.2 million.
Austria: Racecar Drama a “Rush” for Austrian Fans
Ron Howard’s period Formula One drama Rush stalled in many territories but not so in Austria, where the story of Austrian-born driver Nikki Lauda – played in the film by Daniel Bruhl – is still the stuff of legends. Rush grossed $4.3 million in Austria, cracking the country’s top five. That’s nearly as much as the $5.6 million Rush grossed in neighboring Germany, a country with ten times the population.
Australia: Sticky Wicket for Cricket Comedy “Save Your Legs”
It was no surprise that the glossy big budget The Great Gatsby from local boy Baz Luhrmann killed at the Aussie box office ($25 million plus), but indie features had a tough time down under. Australian Oscar conteder The Rocket fizzled out at under $500,000; the musical It's Goddess fell flat with a $1.1 million gross and high-profile omnibus feature The Turning, featuring big Oz names including Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne and Hugo Weaving, pulled in just $1 million. But the biggest disappointment of the year was cricketing comedy, Save Your Legs. Despite a writing and acting team that included some of Australia’s A list TV talent, Legs posted one of the worst opening weekends ever for an Australian film -- opening wide on 176 screens for a screen average of just $817 -- and grossing just $336,000.
Sweden: “Waltz With Monica” Adds A Touch of Jazz
A biopic about a 1960s jazz singer is no one’s idea of a safe bet but Per Fly’s take on the life of Swedish singer and actress Monica Zetterlund was number two with a bullet. Waltz With Monica, featuring a star-making turn by newcomer Edda Magnason, earned $7 million at the local box office, the only local film to crack the top ten in the territory.
Russia: “Stalingrad” Surprise
70 years after the Red Army defeated the Nazis at the Battle of Stalingrad, local audiences stormed theaters to see Fedor Bondarchuk's lavish 3D retelling of the epic story familiar to every Russian school kid. The film took some flak for its portrayal of German soldiers – “too sympathetic” moaned hard core nationalists – but it conquered the box office, earning more than $66 million in Russia and the CIS, making it the biggest local language film of all time in the territory.
Italy: “Sun In Buckets” Best Opener Ever
Italian funnyman Checco Zalone might be little known beyond Italy’s borders but he is the country’s hottest cinema ticket. His latest feature, Sun in Buckets set an all-time record for the biggest opening weekend in Italian cinema history -- domestic film or a Hollywood production – when it racked in more than $25 million over four days. The story of a penniless father (Zalone) trying to organize a dream vacation for his son has earned nearly $70 million in Italy.
Denmark: “Keeper of Lost Causes” Leads Local Dramas
Tiny Denmark showed it could compete with Hollywood on its home turf with the top four grossing titles this year all home-grown. Leading the way was the thriller The Keeper of Lost Causes, which earned $10.5 million. Denmark’s Oscar contender The Hunt was close behind with a $7.9 million gross. Danish cinema is set to end the year with a bang when Lars von Trier’s hotly anticipated sex epic Nymphomaniac hits screens on Christmas Day.
Japan: No Mercy for “Unforgiven”
The Japanese remake of Unforgiven, starring Ken Watanabe in the Clint Eastwoodrole, from award-winning director Lee Sang-il, was a critically acclaimed both at home and abroad, and seemed destined to be a hit for Warner Bros Japan. But Japanese audiences took no pity and Unforgiven failed to crack the top 50, earning just $6.5 million.
India: 'Dhoom 3' Crushes Bollywood Records
The close of 2013 at the India box office was marked by the booming success of Dhoom 3, starring Aamir Khan, as the film pulled in $10.17 million during its opening weekend abroad -- the biggest international opening ever for an Indian film. At home, the third installment of the action franchise from veteran Bollywood banner Yash Raj Films crossed the 1 billion rupee ($16.7 million) mark in its first three days -- the industry's biggest domestic opening ever, as well.