Hollywood Reruns Make Up for Lack of Genre Films in South Korea

Focus Features
'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' garnered nearly twice the number of moviegoers during its second run in South Korean theaters compared to its initial release in 2004.

The number of re-released U.S. films has increased by 26 times in the past five years, with some titles earning more revenue than during their initial run.

Among the top 20 films at the South Korean box office over the weekend of Dec. 16-18 were two reruns of Hollywood favorites: 2004's The Phantom of the Opera returned to theaters after a dozen years to finish at No. 11, while Chicago made a comeback at No. 14 after first hitting local screens 13 years ago.

South Korean cinemas are increasingly depending on re-releases — particularly of Hollywood titles. The number of re-releases multiplied by 26 times over the past five years. In 2011, there were four re-released titles, according to the Korean Film Council, as opposed to 107 in 2015.

Some films have earned more revenue during their second time around. 500 Days of Summer brought in a total 139,000 admissions during its summer run this year, surpassing the 137,000 admissions it garnered back in 2010. South Korean industry observers largely measure box-office performance by admissions. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's rerun last year recorded nearly double its initial performance, as 370,000 moviegoers saw the film compared with about 170,000 back in 2004.

Experts say the re-releases are particularly popular for genres, such as romance films, that get less focus amid the flood of local crime dramas and thrillers in cinemas. Romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally, for example, is due back in theaters on Dec. 28, with The Notebook, The English Patient and Wicker Park among other romances that have returned to South Korean theaters.

"The rise in the number of replayed films can be attributed to the lack of diversity in film genres, as well as the domination of screens by blockbusters," says film critic Kim Byung-jae.

According to a survey conducted between Nov. 29-Dec. 6 by the Korean Film Council, the top three reasons moviegoers watched reruns were: They saw the film, but not in a theater (49.7 percent); they already watched the film at the cinema but wanted to rewatch it (33.9 percent); and they did not watch the film but heard positive reviews through word of mouth (16.4 percent).

Another reason is the financial viability of reruns. Rights for re-releases cost about $50,000, according to local industry experts, or nothing at all if re-released within the contract period, which is normally seven years. Once re-released, the titles have a relatively low break-even point of about 10,000 admissions. 

South Korean companies that are driving these re-releases have more reason to look back at old titles because of the relatively low marketing fee and extra revenue from the secondary market. According to the Korean Film Council, 500 Days of Summer ranked among the top 10 genre films in local video-on-demand services during the month of August following its theatrical re-release in June.

Says Kim: "It's a great commercial plus to re-screen titles that have already been well received by audiences." 

Here is a look at upcoming re-releases of Hollywood movies in South Korea:

Dec. 28: When Harry Met Sally

Dec. 28: Sleepless in Seattle

Jan. 5: Billy Elliot

Jan. 19: The Reader

Jan. 19: Thelma & Louise

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