Executive Suite: Veronika Kwan-Rubinek
Warner Bros.' president of international distribution celebrates "Harry Potter's" record-breaking bow, looks ahead to its China release and explains how "The Hangover Part II" beat the odds.
Born in Hong Kong, raised in Europe and the Middle East and fluent in four languages, Veronika Kwan-Rubinek has a job that keeps her poring over box-office reports from around the world. Having worked her way up through the ranks at Warners Bros., the mother of two has been president of distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures International since 2000, her tenure coinciding with the epic rollout of the eight Harry Potter movies. They, in turn, have benefited from the explosive growth of the international market, the ever-quickening transition to digital distribution and exhibition and the added pop of 3D. With the final film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, mesmerizing moviegoers worldwide, Kwan-Rubinek, 47, has had even more numbers to add up: Amassing $312.3 million from 59 territories, the movie notched the biggest international opening of all time, which, added to its domestic take of $169.2 million, made for the biggest worldwide opening ever: a whopping $481.5 million.
You've been involved with all eight Harry Potter movies. Put this opening in some perspective.
I did start the year before the first Harry Potter movie opened, so it was a very fortunate time to become president. The first Harry Potter movie did nearly $660 million, and it was the first time the studio realized such incredible numbers in the international marketplace. Over the course of the years, the franchise has been tremendously consistent and successful. We've grossed over $600 million with every single one of them except for the third one, which was released in June, just before the European soccer championships. Over the years, we tried different scenarios in terms of summer versus the November-dating corridor. Obviously, the November-dating corridor worked very well for the first two. But we have found over time that the July-release corridor is the best release date for us on a global basis, so we settled on that date with the fifth film, and that date has been a great time to go out day-and-date with it.
Any concerns that even though fans fueled the huge opening, Deathly Hallows Part 2 won't have the legs of a movie like The Dark Knight?
With every Harry Potter movie, we've seen a faster playoff. However, the movie has been extremely well-reviewed, and it is our belief that it will have great playability.
So it will become the first Harry Potter movie to do more than $1 billion worldwide?
Are you ready to say how much more than $1 billion it does?
How has the transition to digital contributed to such an enormous day-and-date release?
Over the last couple of years, digital growth has been dramatic. Since 2008, digital screens have grown approximately 228 percent to about 28,000 to date internationally. Of that, 3D has grown approximately 250 percent to approximately 18,000 internationally. For Harry Potter, it meant a huge number of 3D screens, almost 10,000 of 20,000 screens in 3D. 3D was on approximately 45 percent of the screens, and approximately 60 percent of the business came from 3D. Some territories were higher, others lower, but 3D continues to be very strong internationally.
Why is 3D attracting so much more business abroad than here in the States, where about 43 percent of the business came from 3D?
Internationally, going to the movies is not necessarily a part of the culture. People tend to go out to the movies when they consider it a big event, and 3D movies are considered an event. That is a major driver. It feels like there's been a lot more talk about the 3D experience domestically, but that hasn't been the case internationally. It's still perceived as a great experience, something new and different. Also, looking at the growth markets, it is a big part of the box office; China, for example, has the biggest single 3D footprint outside of the United States with over 2,000 3D screens. And when we release Harry Potter there August 4, we expect to have an enormous 3D screen count in China.
China is the one major territory where you did not open day-and-date. And China, with its quota of 20 U.S. films a year, remains restrictive. Is that going to affect how the movie performs there?
It would have been nice to open day-and-date in China. But now we have the benefit of this incredible event around the world leading up to the release in China. And even though piracy is always an issue, it didn't hurt the release of Inception in China, where it did over $60 million two months after its U.S. opening. We did $32 million U.S. with the last Harry Potter. Looking at the last four U.S. films that have opened in China, it's very possible that the new film could do over $50 million.
What are some of the other markets where the business is growing?
By far, the fastest-growing market has been and continues to be Russia, where the screen count has grown 2,000 percent in the last 10 years, and box office has grown probably 3,000 percent. It's a market that doesn't have any quotas, and it's a market that has a huge appetite for big-event films. China, with its 20 films per year quota, limits the number of films that can be released there. However, with the enormous screen growth that has occurred -- the Chinese have approximately 6,500 screens at this time, and they continue to build screens at a steady pace -- with only 20 films, each film is making more and more money. Brazil is definitely another growth market. Turkey is another one. We look to the Ukraine as another potential market. As well as Vietnam.
This summer, you also released The Hangover Part II, which grossed more in foreign markets than it did domestically. That wasn't true of the first Hangover in 2009 and is very rare for a comedy. How did you accomplish that?
That film is truly a unique situation. It had tremendous playability the first time around, and we did $190 million internationally, which is incredible for a comedy. So it was already perceived as a known property. And it only became more of an event as we rolled into the second release. In Russia, for example, it did better this time around, but all the territories were terrific.
It's still the exception that proves the rule, though. Why don't U.S. comedies typically travel abroad?
Two things: Culturally, comedy doesn't always translate. The other issue is that international is driven by event movies or star-driven movies. And comedies don't always feature major talent. Now, when we had Yes Man, we had Jim Carrey starring, and that did over $100 million internationally.
Looking toward next summer, have you set a bar with Deathly Hallows Part 2 that will add to the pressure when you release The Dark Knight Rises?
I think The Dark Knight Rises will do incredibly well. Coming off 2008's The Dark Knight as
well as last year's Inception, the expectation is clearly high internationally.
So when do you start planning for that?