'Les Miserables,' 'Skyfall,' 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey': Why International Premieres Work
When the first bars of music from director Tom Hooper's Les Miserables waft over the audience at the Empire Leicester Square theater in London tonight, it will mark the latest tentpole release to sing to an international tune first.
A growing uptick in studio-backed blockbuster titles debuting internationally over a more traditional, U.S.-first bow is just one endorsement of accepted Hollywood wisdom that more than 60 per cent of a title's revenues flow from overseas markets.
After its U.K. world bow, the Les Mis bandwagon - with a mix of stars including Amanda Seyfried, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway - will move to Japan for a Dec. 21 opening before finally landing in U.S. theaters on Christmas Day.
It's a release pattern that flies in the face of received wisdom that says the U.S. market should be the starting point for an increasingly global rollout for tentpole titles.
Just over a week ago, Peter Jackson turned Wellington, the capital of his native New Zealand, into a city-wide version of Middle Earth for the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Nov. 28.
Thousands of Hobbit fans lined the 1,600 foot-long red carpet outside Wellington's Embassy Theater, whose entrance was adorned with Bilbo Baggins' circular door as well as a huge clock counting down the days, hours and seconds to the premiere. National airline Air New Zealand, its planes decked out in Hobbit livery, flew in key cast from London and Los Angeles including Martin Freeman, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Andy Serkis.
Like Les Miz, The Hobbit picked Japan as its next port of call, premiering there on Saturday, Dec. 1. The film will go out on multiple international territories before its U.S. bow on Dec. 14.
Skyfall premiered in U.K. on Oct. 23 and rolled out across Europe, Mexico, Hong Kong and Turkey before touching ground domestically Nov. 9.
Other big budget titles to take the foreign-first approach to release include Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which premiered in Russia, Resident Evil: Retribution (Japan) and The Three Musketeers (Germany).
In many cases, the international start is essentially part of a day-and-date release. Transformers 3 rolled out globally within a week of its Moscow debut and the New Zealand and Japanese bows of The Hobbit are limited, with wide release in those territories timed to the film's global bow next week.
Even Les Miserables' U.K. premiere is more of a nod to local producers Working Title and Brit helmer Hooper than a full-out foreign launch. The film's wide British rollout kicks off Jan. 11, after the U.S. bow.
However Universal, which is releasing the film worldwide, still hopes to benefit from the hype surrounding the high-profile London event.
Ahead of the Les Miserables premiere, a Universal insider told THR it was nice "to be at home
with a film that is being talked up as a commercial and a critical success already."
Increasingly, however, producers are going one step further and using foreign markets as a springboard to build up box office momentum before hitting the U.S.
The international first strategy has its roots among independents that take lead producer roles in tentpoles for the studios (as is the case with Working Titles on Les Mis) or wholly back their own big budget productions.
"We've had a good experience with a 'tailor-made' release schedule... sometimes it just makes more sense to start (a film) in an international territory and then move to the U.S.," Martin Moskowicz, head of film and television at Musketeers producer Constantin Film told THR. "In general, you can say the advantages of a 'day and date' release can't be the sole criteria, because the competition situation in individual territories, especially from local productions, is different. And different territories have different cinema seasons."
The studios took a page out of the indies' playbook this summer, when they bowed several titles in Europe, including Battleship (Universal), Prometheus (Fox) and Snow White and the Huntsman (Universal) - far in advance of the U.S., hoping to avoid competition with television broadcasts of the European Soccer Championships.
The main argument against an international premiere - that online piracy will sabotage the domestic release - does not seem a major concern for distributors taking the foreign first approach.
Skyfall's early British bow hasn't hurt the 23rd Bond. The Daniel Craig-starrer continues to set box office records worldwide it just became the highest-grossing film of all time in the U.K., beating out James Cameron's Avatar and has set franchise records across Europe.
And, despite rolling out in several territories a full two weeks ahead of the States, Skyfall opened to $88.4 million in the U.S., a record for the 50-year-old franchise, soaring past the $67.5 million domestic debut for Quantum of Solace and more than double the $40.8 million Casino Royale took in on its first American weekend.
Similarly, the international start for The Hobbit isn't expected to hurt its U.S. performance.
There has been one high profile warning sign for those who insist on the traditional America first strategy.
For Cloud Atlas, the opulent fantasy epic from directors Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings, Warner Bros. opted to premiere in the U.S. - with less-than stellar results. The $100 million film opened to a soft $9.6 million and has grossed just $26 million domestically. WB is taking a piecemeal approach to the title globally, bowing Cloud Atlas in several major territories, including the U.K., France, Japan and Spain, in February and March of next year.
Meanwhile, its first international bow, in Russia via indie A Company and 20th Century Fox, was a huge success. Cloud Atlas earned a whopping $9.1 million, including previews in Russia and CIS on its first weekend and has so far earned close to $16 million in Russia alone, making the U.S. figure seem a bit lowball.