Why 'A Star Is Born' Isn't Wowing Overseas Audiences

Outside of English-speaking territories, international box office for the Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga musical drama has underperformed compared to its blockbuster U.S. results.

Why aren't foreigners going gaga for A Star Is Born?

Bradley Cooper's directorial debut, which features Lady Gaga in her first big-screen leading role, has wowed U.S. critics and audiences alike — earning some $178 million to date at the domestic box office and topping many awards season best-of lists.

But internationally, in many countries at least, A Star Is Born has failed to ignite.

The Warner Bros. release has earned $144.8 million to date outside of North America, just less than 45 percent of its total take of $322.8 million, while studio-style releases of this sort typically earn 60 percent or more of their gross overseas. For comparison, Fox's Bohemian Rhapsody, which tells the story of rock band Queen and its flamboyant frontman Freddy Mercury, has earned $100 million stateside and already grossed more than $185 million outside of North America. Bohemian Rhapsody is in its third week in release, where A Star is Born is already into its 6th week.

Musical-themed features also typically tend to do well internationally. The foreign box office for La La Land ($294 million), The Greatest Showman ($260 million) and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again ($273 million) all outpaced domestic by a wide margin.

While audiences in the U.K. ($33.1 million gross) and Australia ($17.1 million) have come out in force for A Star Is Born, most international territories have lagged. In Germany, the film has earned a middling $8.6 million, while in Spain it has reached just $4.8 million. Even in South Korea, where musical-themed films are king, A Star Is Born failed to deliver a boffo box office, earning $3.3 million to date. To compare, La La Land earned $27 million in South Korea, The Greatest Showman $10.6 million, and even the low-budget Irish music drama Sing Street brought in $3.8 million in the territory.

But drawing direct comparisons between other musical films and A Star Is Born is difficult, because Cooper's film is neither a musical, nor a music biopic. It's a fictional romantic drama set in the music world. Perhaps the closest equivalent studio title would be 1992's The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, though that film also had major action elements that likely helped it internationally (where it earned $289 million, 70 percent of its total gross of $411 million).

What seems clear is that while both Cooper and Lady Gaga are huge, recognizable international stars, foreign audiences are responding differently to A Star Is Born.

“German fans were not particularly excited ahead of the film's release,” says Ines Walk, editor-in-chief at Moviepilot, an online portal for German cinemagoers. “And many criticized the film for focusing too much on the male character — Bradley Cooper's drunken country rock star Jackson — instead of the more interesting story of the female singer played by Lady Gaga."

Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice Media, noted that the film's "country-heavy soundtrack," which "doesn't cross over to all cultures" might also be a hindrance internationally.  

Other international analysts noted that expectations that A Star Is Born would play like a musical overseas may have been misplaced. Instead, audiences in many international territories have responded to the feature more as a conventional drama, which would explain its respectable, but not extraordinary, global box office. It's notable that French audiences, which love a good drama, have embraced A Star Is Born. The film has spent six weeks in the top 10 and grossed $12.6 million there to date.

But A Star Is Born could still enjoy an international encore if positive word-of-mouth, and Oscar hype, work to its advantage.

“Strong word-of-mouth has helped (A Star Is Born) expand overseas appeal and earn strong weekly holds in countries like Germany and Brazil,” says Robbins. Warner Bros. points to excellent holdovers in several territories — including Australia, where box office dropped just 26 percent in its fourth weekend, and France, which saw a slim 36 percent slip in its sixth weekend in release.

“If Oscar buzz gets louder, that could revive the box office here,” says Walk of Germany. “Fans who haven't understood why the film is an awards frontrunner might decide to check it out.”

“There clearly is something about this particular story, which has its roots in three earlier U.S.-produced filmed versions, that has a particular resonance with audiences in the U.S. and has not instilled the same level of passion in other parts of the world,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore. “To be fair though, a less than $35 million difference between the U.S. and international box office shows that the film has many universal themes and of course amazing music that has kept it going strong as we head toward awards and Oscar season where it will be a major contender.”

A Star Is Born is on release everywhere worldwide with the exception of Japan, where it bows Dec. 21. Warner Bros. did not respond to emails requesting comment