Hollywood's Surprise 2015 Box-Office Hits and Misses Abroad

Furious 7 Still - H 2015

'Minions,' not 'Inside Out,' rules in Russia, while China connects with 'Terminator: Genisys' and U.S. flop 'Fantastic Four' is a surprise hit south of the border.

Overall, Hollywood had another banner year in 2015, dominating the global film market yet again with an army of studio tentpoles that packed them in from Bogota to Beijing.

Furious 7, Minions, Jurassic World, Avengers: The Age of Ultron and, of course, the unstoppable juggernaut of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, added international riches to their impressive domestic takes, in some cases dramatically so.

Furious 7 beat out Jurassic World on the global stage, with the car-racing actioner earning $1.16 billion outside of North America, including a staggering $390 million in China alone, a take that topped its U.S. box office. The film hit the sweet spot in China, where car culture is only starting to take off and a flashy set of wheels has become the most potent symbol of the growing, aspirational middle-class. Overall, 76 percent of Furious 7's $1.5 billion gross came from the global market. Furious 7 and Jurassic World were the only two titles to gross more than $1 billion dollars outside the U.S. as of Dec. 21.

Minions earned $821 million, 71 percent of the film's $1.15 billion total gross, from selling tickets to foreigners. Pierre Coffin's Despicable Me spinoff became the second-highest grossing movie of all time in Russia ($33 million), behind only Avatar. Pixar's critically acclaimed Inside Out grossed $356 million stateside, and closed out with a $851 million total, the third-biggest international and global gross for a Pixar film ever and the second-biggest for a Pixar original. But, Inside Out didn't ignite audiences in China, where the pic earned less than $15 million. Pixar's nostalgia-laden and emotionally nuanced stories have consistently underperformed in China, where local audiences prefer more boisterous animated fare.

Terminator: Genisys, however,  was noisy enough to stir up boffo business abroad. The latest in the Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi franchise leveraged its soft-ish U.S. bow (with a gross of less than $90 million) to an inhuman $350 million international take, fully 80 percent of the movie's worldwide revenue of $440 million. China again led the way with $112 million at the box office. But all of Asia loved helmer Alan Taylor's film, which made $23 million in South Korea and $19 million in Japan, along with $20 million in Russia and $10 million in Australia.

With other tentpoles, the story was more mixed. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 delivered mostly decent, and in some places extraordinary, box-office totals (nearly $40 million each in both Germany and Spain), but bombed in China — where it closed out at just $22 million — and Japan, which delivered only $1.2 million for the final entry in the YA franchise. That compares to $3.4 million in Japan for Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, itself a disappointing performance. Observers are speaking of YA fatigue in the territory.

Erotic thriller Fifty Shades of Grey, which earned more than 70 percent of its $570 million box office outside North America, played best in permissive Europe, with a $51 million take in the U.K., $42 million in Germany and $29 million in France. Brazil also went wild for director Sam Taylor-Johnson's adaptation of the E. L. James mega best-seller. The film was a top-five title there, earning $31 million and beating out such titles as Jurassic World ($29 million) and Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation ($9.8 million). But not so in Japan, where the book wasn't a big hit and the film earned just $3.6 million.

Finally, in the “Who'd have thought it?” category, a handful of indie titles and domestic bombs found a fervent foreign fan base in a few select countries.

Whiplash — a sleeper hit in the U.S., where it grossed $13 million and earned three Oscars — found favor with audiences in Japan and South Korea, where the low-budget pic earned $5 million and $11.5 million, respectively. Perhaps J.K. Simmons' dictatorial music teacher character struck a chord with Asian fans who themselves endured a similarly strict pedagogical approach in their youths.

And for those behind some of this year's biggest flops, there was some small international consolation. Fantastic Four killed it in Mexico ($8 million) and in tiny Peru and Singapore ($2 million each); Pixels was big in Germany ($10 million) and the U.K. ($12 million), and Pan, which bombed in most countries, earned a respectable $13 million in author J.M. Barrie's homeland, Great Britain.

There was even a silver lining or two for the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending, which finished below $50 million Stateside but grossed $136 million outside North America, including a decent $44 million in China and an impressive $10 million in Russia.  

Correction Dec. 23 12:10: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized Inside Out's international performance as disappointing. In fact, the film is the third highest-grossing Pixar movie of all time worldwide.