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In a year that started with Fifty Shades of Grey, included Furious 7, Avengers: The Age of Ultron and Minions and closed with the massive bang of Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens, you’d be forgiven for thinking Hollywood ruled the world in 2015.
But from Buenos Aires to Berlin to Beijing, there were local-language champs that took on big studio titles and won. The growth of box-office revenue worldwide has been a tide lifting all boats, and in numerous territories, Hollywood is taking a back seat. Even in countries that broadly track the U.S. box office — the U.K. and Australia, for example — there have been notable homegrown success stories.
Here’s a breakdown of the biggest local-language blockbusters of the year that was.
Down under, Hollywood again reigned supreme, with one notable exception: George Miller’s long-awaited Mad Max reboot kick-started the local film industry. Mad Max: Fury Road was the top-earning Aussie film by a mile in 2015, with a $16 million gross.
The Dressmaker, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s 1950-set drama starring Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth and Hugo Weaving, also delivered, with a $12.3 million take.
Having a Hollywood tentpole is no longer a guarantor of success in China, where audiences are increasingly turning to homegrown blockbusters. This year’s top earner in the world’s No. 2 movie market was a CGI/live-action fantasy epic from Hong Kong director Roman Huihad.
Monster Hunt unseated Universal’s Furious 7 when it grossed more than ¥2.428 billion ($381 million), surpassing Furious 7‘s $380.57 million haul, according to China’s media regulator.
Six of this year’s top-grossing titles in China were local-language, including comedy hits Lost in Hong Kong ($253.6 million) and Goodbye Mr. Loser ($226 million).
The big question for 2016 will be if The Force Awakens, which opens in China on Jan. 9, can win over an audience unfamiliar with the original films.
Neighboring India, with its Bollywood juggernaut, is used to running things, with Hollywood a side note in an industry dominated by Hindi-language blockbusters.
There were a couple of U.S. outliers in India this year: Furious 7 and Jurassic World became the first Hollywood releases since Avatar to cross the 1 billion-rupee mark (around $16 million) at the box office. But that paled beside the $93 million earned by Salman Khan-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan, or the amazing $90 million take from South Indian title Baahubali: The Beginning. S.S. Rajamouli’s period epic, the first of a two-parter, proved that films shot in one of India’s regional languages (in this case Telugu and Tamil) can have the same massive impact of a mainstream Hindi-language Bollywood flick.
In Japan, a merchandise-driven franchise with a ridiculously long English-language name was this year’s box-office phenomenon. Yo-kai Watch the Movie: It’s the Secret of Birth, Meow!, released in December 2014, earned most of its box office in 2015, an impressive $64 million gross.
The sequel, Yo-Kai Watch the Movie: The Great King Enma and the Five Tales, Meow!, earned an estimated $41 million over its opening weekend, beating The Force Awakens in terms of ticket sales if not overall gross and setting up the franchise as a worthy successor to Pokemon. Western parents, beware!
Another Asian territory accustomed to beating Hollywood at its own game is South Korea, where a string of local blockbusters, including crime dramas Veteran ($93 million) and Inside Man ($44 million) and period epic Assassination ($86.9 million), helped South Korean titles take more than half of the total box office.
Local survival drama The Himalayas comfortably beat The Force Awakens in its debut frame, earning $10.1 million compared to the latter’s $7.96 million opening weekend.
A local soccer-themed comedy, F.C. De Kampioenen 2: Jubilee General, was the only Belgian title to crack the top 10 at the local box office this year, earning $4.75 million.
But the true Cinderella story in the lowlands in 2015 was Black, a Romeo and Juliet-like tale from directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah set among rival ethnic gangs in the slums of Brussels. The low-budget drama grossed more than $1 million locally, making it a bone fide hit.
In Denmark, Klown Forever, the latest in a low-brow, local-language comedy franchise, grossed $6.8 million in 2015, making it a top 5 film in the country, behind only Force Awakens, Spectre and Jurassic World.
Mikkel Norgaard’s sequel to his 2008 hit (which grossed an astonishing $12 million) beat out another homegrown laffer, Anders Thomas Jensen’s darker Men & Chicken, which earned $4.5 million.
Further north, Finnish cinema continues to hold its own against foreign invaders, with a handful of local titles cracking the top 10, including Taneli Mustonen’s school reunion comedy Luokkakokous, which grossed $5.7 million, and Lapland Odyssey 2, which took in $4.1 million.
The historic home of cinema had, for its standards, a weak year, with the box-office take for French films — even before Force Awakens — amounting to less than 40 percent. This, however, leaves out the massive $45 million earned by Universal’s Minions, which France’s Pierre Coffin co-directed and which was largely animated by French-based studio Illumination Mac Guff.
The other standout French hit was Eric Lartigau’s dramedy La Famille Belier, which focuses on a young, musically gifted girl growing up with deaf parents and siblings. The pic earned $55.7 million, a strong performance but still behind some of France’s biggest comedy hits, such as 2014’s Serial (Bad) Weddings ($105 million).
Luc Besson’s English-language, Paris-set actioner Lucy, however, salvaged French pride, becoming the most successful European film internationally. The sci-fi thriller starring Scarlett Johansson sold 31.9 million tickets and grossed more than $210 million outside Europe in 2015, including more than $126 million in North America.
Three very different German movies went toe-to-toe with the studio tentpoles in 2015: Schooldays comedy Suck Me Shakespeer 2 grossed — in all senses of the word — more than $70 million, making it the No. 1 German title of the year, behind only Force Awakens.
But two smaller films also scored big: David Wnendt’s Look Who’s Back, a Borat-style comedy about Adolf Hitler walking the streets of modern-day Berlin, blitzed its way to the top of the German box-office charts, earning more than $20 million; and Victoria, Sebastian Schipper’s experimental drama, shot in a single, two-hour unedited take, was this year’s sleeper hit, earning over $3 million.
Iceland was hot both for local filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur, whose mountaineering drama Everest earned an incredible $8.8 million in the tiny nation, and for Grimur Hakonarson’s low-budget, local-language dark comedy Sena, which grossed around $3 million.
It was a different story in Italy, where only one local title — Alessandro Siani’s religious comedy Si Accettano Miracoli — broke the overall top 10, grossing just under $19 million.
Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, an English-language feature starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, collected $6.8 million, well behind the Italian director’s previous film, the Oscar-winner The Great Beauty, which took $9.5 million on its home turf.
Roel Reine’s big-budget period drama Admiral was the only Dutch film to crack the top 10 in the Netherlands in 2015, earning $6.4 million, below industry expectations.
Kees van Nieuwkerk’s local-language rom-com Ja, Ik Wil! took in a respectable $3.3 million to place two Dutch titles in the country’s 20 top earners for the year.
In Norway, Roar Uthaug’s The Wave — the first real Nordic disaster film — washed away the pre-Star Wars competition, earning $8.2 million in the tiny nation with a population of 5 million. The pic, in which a geological event triggers a tsunami in a Norwegian fjord, was the country’s foreign-language Oscar hopeful but didn’t make the final cut of nominees.
Russian audiences embraced Hollywood tentpoles with a vengeance this year — only nine Russian films made it into the top 50 highest-grossing titles of 2015, but a pair of homegrown animated features rescued the pride of the local industry.
Konstantin Feoktistov’s Three Heroes: The Knight earned $16.5 million, whileAleksey Tsitsilin‘s Snow Queen 2 took in more than $6 million locally and a record-breaking (for a Russian title) $30 million globally.
Spanish audiences again fell for A Spanish Affair. Emilio Martinez-Lazaro’s sequel to his 2014 hit was this year’s top grosser (before Force Awakens’ launch), earning close to $35 million at the local box office.
A Spanish Affair 2 still has a way to go to match its predecessor, which grossed $61.9 million, putting it behind only 2009’s Avatar as the top-grossing film of all time in Spain.
In Sweden, the only local film to crack the top 10 was rom-com Last Chance, which centers on a rich woman who falls for a simple carpenter. The pic earned $6.7 million.
Homegrown comedies continue to batter studio fare in Turkey, where 1960s-set laffer Mucize was the top grosser, before Force Awakens arrived, earning $15 million locally.
Only three U.S. features — Force Awakens will likely be the fourth — made the Turkish top 10 this year, with Furious 7‘s $11.7 million the highest pre-Star Wars gross for a non-Turkish title.
British audiences flocked to U.K.-U.S. co-productions this year, notably Spectre, the latest James Bond film from Sony/Eon ($140.2 million), and Universal/Working Title’s Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything ($32 million).
The only non-studio Brit feature to crack the top 20 was Studiocanal’s Legend, starring Tom Hardy as notorious London gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, which earned $28 million. Even here there were a few caveats: The lead producer on Legend was Universal-owned Working Title, and Studiocanal is a French-controlled company.
Other Brit-flavored pics backed by Hollywood majors, including Fox’s Kingsman: The Secret Service ($24 million) and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ($23 million), also delivered. Studiocanal’s claymation feature Shaun the Sheep Movie took in a respectable $20.9 million, and Maggie Smith starrer The Lady In The Van grossed more than $17 million.
But the breakout story of the year was Amy, Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the late British soul singer Amy Winehouse, which earned $5.7 million in the U.K., making it the most successful doc ever in the territory.
Pablo Trapero turned a true story of brutal criminals living under the noses of Buenos Aires’ elite into a box-office phenomenon. The Clan — the story of the Puccio family, who in the 1980s regularly kidnapped the rich and powerful (sometimes their own acquaintances) and killed them after receiving their ransom money — grossed more than $17 million, making it the No. 1 Argentine film of the year.
It was a mixed year for Brazilian cinema, with only one title — Roberto Santucci’s Portugese-language comedy Loucas pra Casar (Wedding Crazy) — cracking the top 10, earning just under $16 million.
Another local laffer, the feature film adaptation of hit TV series Vai que Cola, earned a respectable $10.8 million, while Julia Rezende’s latest, Meu Passado me Condena 2, another low-brow comedy, grossed $10.1 million.
2015 was a banner year for Hollywood in Mexico, with studio blockbusters helping push box office to a new record with nearly 300 million tickets sold and over $800 million in revenue.
But local titles had it tough across the border. The market share for Mexican titles slipped to just over 5 percent from nearly 10 percent last year. The top earner was animated feature A Rooster With Many Eggs, which grossed more than $10 million locally. But perhaps the year’s biggest surprise was the documentary Cartel Land. The non-fiction feature from director Matthew Heineman, which focuses on vigilante groups battling Mexico’s violent drug gangs, grossed nearly $200,000 at home and more than $700,000 in the U.S.
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