Summer Box Office: How Studios Plan to Avoid a World Cup Smackdown

 

This story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In entertainment, there are few things bigger than Hollywood's summer blockbusters. The FIFA World Cup, held every four years, sits atop that list. The monthlong soccer championship is one of the globe's most-watched televised events: In 2010, more than 3.2 billion people -- nearly half of the world's population -- tuned in to the World Cup, hosted by South Africa. And nearly 1 billion viewers watched the final match between Spain and the Netherlands, marking the second-most-watched televised event in history after the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics (in many markets, soccer is far bigger than the Olympics).

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As such, the World Cup wreaks havoc on movie­going in much of Europe and Latin America -- with Spain (which won in 2010), Germany, Holland, Brazil and Argentina among the most soccer-crazed. Playing the goalkeeper, studios try to deflect damage by adjusting their release calendars, even though it results in a pre- and post-Cup crush.

This year is no different as Hollywood prepares for the 2014 tournament, which gets underway June 12 in Brazil and concludes July 13. Numerous films will be impacted, chief among them Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction. Paramount opens the fourth film in the $3 billion franchise in North America on June 27, smack in the middle of the matches.

As a result of the World Cup, there will be a pileup of big event titles in late July and early August, when Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending and Guardians of the Galaxy will have little breathing room.

There's also a bit of a gathering before the start of the tournament. Tom Cruise's Edge of Tomorrow, which opens June 6 in North America, is rolling out earlier overseas in order to provide some cushion. In many major markets, including the U.K. and Germany, Edge of Tomorrow will hence open opposite Maleficent.

"Hollywood has been dealing with the World Cup for many years now and seems to have adapted fairly well. The problem is, it does cause a glut of product subsequent to the games," says Paramount international president Anthony Marcoly. "With a film like Transformers: Age of Extinction and most summer blockbusters, the core audience is identical to that of the World Cup. It is far too risky to compete with the World Cup and generate the huge box-office returns needed."

Transformers will open day-and-date in much of Asia and Russia, both regions where the risk of piracy makes it too dangerous to wait. But with the commencement of the World Cup, box-office revenue can plummet as much as 70 percent in some European countries.

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In 2006, The Karate Kid successfully navigated the tourney by holding back in several territories, including Spain, where it went on to earn a healthy $11.7 million post-soccer. All told, the Sony film grossed $182.5 million internationally and $176.6 million domestically.

There are opportunities -- female-skewing films and family fare can do fine in this corridor. When Andrew Cripps, now president of Imax's European operations, moved to the U.K. in 1998 for United Pictures International -- the now-defunct joint venture of Paramount and Universal -- he saw Gwyneth Paltrow's Sliding Doors "clean up" opposite the Cup.

This year, Fox hopes to enjoy the same sort of success with The Fault in Our Stars, a romantic drama based on John Green's best-selling novel. The movie, starring Shailene Woodley, begins rolling out June 6 across the globe.

"Don't get me wrong, there are some markets where a lot of women watch the World Cup, but Green has a rabid following," says Craig Dehmel, senior vp international at Fox.

Fox also will open DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon 2 throughout the world at the end of June (it launches stateside June 13). Says Dehmel: "We decided to take the World Cup head on."

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