CineEurope: Honoree Duncan Clark on 'Fifty Shades' and China's Exploding Box Office (Q&A)

 

This story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Universal's international distribution president Duncan Clark will have no shortage of hot projects to tease when taking the stage at CineEurope -- Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fast & Furious 7 and Jurassic World among them. He'll also be honored as distributor of the year at the annual convention of international exhibitors in Barcelona, where Hollywood studios tout their upcoming slates. Clark, 61, recently survived a shake-up that saw newly installed Universal Pictures chief Jeff Shell move most of the studio's international operations to Los Angeles. The Brit, however, gets to remain in London after re-upping his contract. Under his watch, in 2013, Universal crossed the $2 billion mark in foreign box-office revenue for the first time, thanks to titles including Despicable Me 2 and Fast & Furious 6. On the eve of CineEurope -- held June 16 to 19 -- Clark spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about Fifty Shades, China's exploding box office and why Neighbors has traveled so well.

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What is the biggest change Hollywood faces in releasing any big event film internationally?

The advance of China is the biggest change. Not so long ago, you would have looked at the U.K., Germany and Japan as your big markets outside North America. Now it would be China. Universal is going to open an office in Beijing at some point during the late summer.

American-themed comedies don't always travel well, but Neighbors has been a surprise hit this summer, earning $79.2 million overseas. What's the secret?

Although it has a fraternity element that doesn't relate to every territory, every territory does have neighborhoods and neighbors, and that's a very easy trigger to pull. We're looking at $100 million-plus.

Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West has been soft. Are Westerns an even tougher sell than comedy?

The numbers coming in from our opening markets have been disappointing, but the film is still in play. Our German numbers were strong, although our U.K. and Australian results mirrored the U.S.

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How much of a challenge will Fifty Shades of Grey be?

The books are an enormous asset, and we are seeing an incredible response whenever any of our publicity or promotional materials are exposed.

What other movies will you be touting at CineEurope?

We are looking forward to having Luc Besson with us for Lucy. He has made a brilliant, intelligent, visceral action movie -- as only he can. Scarlett Johansson has done a fantastic job. Her transformation from sexy girlfriend to explosive action girl is something audiences around the world are going to love.

Why make the trek to CineEurope?

From my perspective, it's an opportunity to get in front of more than 60 different countries with our product reel, including what's coming up in 2015.

What do you always take with you when traveling?

Sleeping pills. Also, in the past, it would have been scripts and books, but I just take an iPad now -- it has everything I want.

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