Foreign markets encourage Hollywood sequels

Jim reviews the numbers: “The first Ice Age does $175 million domestically, $206 million internationally.  The second one does $192 million domestically, $456 internationally.  The third one does $200 million domestically and $700 million internationally.”

That is from the new Lynda Obst book, Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the NEW ABNORMAL in the Movie Business.  The book is poorly written but sometimes of interest for those who follow this topic.


Thanks to globalization, Hollywood Inc generates 80% of revenues outside the US.

80% of the market for Hollywood films want:
- no complex dialog
- lots of action and special effects
- no leading women

If Hollywood is just interested in giving the market what it wants, why isn't it churning out pro-Christian and pro-Muslim films? There are billions of Christians and Muslims in the world. Why did it take, for example, Mel Gibson working independently of traditional Hollywood channels to put out something like The Passion?

It's not a given that Muslims will watch a film just because it is pro-Muslim, more so if it happens to be drab, preachy and boring. The ultra-pious fringe and its movie appetite is limited.

More often, tastes are secular: Guns, sex, car-chases, explosions, gore, special-effects etc. make for a more reliable brew. Hollywood's not far off what people want.

Although justly-famed and actually-imaginative Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami seems to have no difficulty steering wide of such Hollywood excesses. (Almost as good as Kiarostami's films is his expressed view that Q. Tarantino is more interesting as a director than his films are.)

You can't stay respectable in Hollywood and make overtly Christian movies.

Sanders is right, here. After the success of the Passion, I was expecting at least a half-hearted remake of the Ten Commandments, in an attempt to squeeze money out of all those naive Christians, but, crickets. From a business perspective the lack of any market followup is absolutely stunning.

Is there any plausible explanation other than ideology?

Does "Jewish" count as "ideology"?

You do realize that the Ten Commandments is a Jewish story?

You're picking and choosing the only hit. There have been tons of religious movies that haven't done anything like "Passions" numbers (search for Christian Movies). And Hollywood did greenlight Narnia movies based upon the success of that and Harry Potter.
But from a marketing perspective "Passion" was an event, not a movie.


The clear pattern is films that are in any way religious, regardless of which religion, rarely perform well. Religious interest vs. movie-going likelihood seems to have a negative correlation.

Lynda Obst began in films working with Peter Guber at Casablanca, where she developed Flashdance. She worked with David Geffen at Geffen films, then began as a producer and teamed with Debra Hill at Hill/Obst, where she worked on such films as Adventures in Babysitting and The Fisher King. She produced Nora Ephron’s directing debut, This Is My Life, and Sleepless in Seattle among sixteen movies at various studios. She is executive producer on TVland’s Hot In Cleveland and is producing TV and movies out of her office at Sony.

So that would be one moderately bad movie, followed by another two really bad movies, followed by a third bad movie with someone who should have known better, then very successful movie that looks very out of place, and now one of the worst TV shows ever conceived. I am not surprised it is poorly written.

It may be foreign markets, but I think it is more likely to be big budgets. Americans used to make movies the way Indians do - dozens in production each year. Now they make very few with very expensive stars and more expensive special effects. The higher costs mean fewer movies. So in the past you could make dozens of Treasures of the Sierra Madre for every Casablanca. Now every one has to be a Casablanca. Which in turn means something reliable.

I think Hollywood will survive, in the sense that movie making will continue. But it will have to turn to less expensive stars, higher output - and above all people who do not hate middle America. The biggest surprise hit in recent times in America was the Passion of the Christ. Hollywood does not do movies like that. They destroyed Mel Gibson for doing so. They don't give a damn if Alec Baldwin says something similar - repeatedly - but they will not forgive Gibson. On TV recently the biggest surprise hit has been a low budget series on the Bible. Mainstream media does not do that either. The future of American movies probably looks like this:

Which is depressing, but on the other hand when was the last time the bad guy in an American movies wasn't a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant? When was the last time the US Army was not shown as the bad guys? Frankly people who make movies like In the Valley of Elah deserve to be out of business. If you hate your customers, they ain't going to buy your product.

I don't think *Fireproof* is watched mostly for its entertainment value -- it's passed around and recommended by and to married couples of a religious bent to help them be better spouses.

I think it's rather the Audio-visual follow-on to the self-help and inspirational book genre, and may indeed represent a growing segment. But it doesn't really relate to the original article.

All three of the "unexpected" recent hits have been religious. I am not sure whether people watched Fireproof, or the Passion of the Christ, for their educational or entertainment value. Maybe even both. Does it matter? People are buying tickets. What is really unexpected is that Hollywood is ignoring it. Usually you can expect them to "me too" even the lamest film. One studio makes a film about a volcano destroying Podunk, another has to make one about a volcano destroying LA. Not this time.

That alone says to me that Hollywood does not want to give their audience something they want to watch.

But it is not just a religion thing. As I said, what other country's movie industry is so relentlessly anti-military? Well, the West's militaries. What other movie industry is so relentlessly anti-family? Anti-heterosexual for that matter. Anti-male. If a character is introduced who is married, male and pious, you know he is going to turn out to be a child molester. You don't think the majority of White male heterosexuals have noticed? In the middle of a campaign against Islamic terrorism do they have the courage to make a film with Muslim terrorists? Not many of them. Hollywood makes movies like The Siege in which all the bad guys are WASPs in the military.

There are exceptions of course. Take Michael Bay. Who as someone who donated his bar mitzah money to a dog shelter probably won't be remaking a sequel to The Passion of the Christ any time soon (although maybe a prequel, The Passion of the Christ: the college years?). But he does not immediately hate White heterosexual males. He ain't going to win any Oscars. Professionals do not like his movies. But he does win popularity contests like the MTV Awards. Hollywood should listen. The foreign press gallery does not buy tickets to see movies. The people who watch MTV do.

Surely the number of films produced each year by Hollywood is declining and has been exceeded by Bollywood, but the MPAA claims Hollywood studios or their subsidiaries produced 128 last year ( Not sure if this comports with the "dozens in production" approach you argue Hollywwood has abandoned. And while the number may be lower than it was during Hollywood's golden age, I seriously doubt that Hollywood's focus of late has been to make more Casablancas at the expense of Treasure of the Sierra Madres (at least I think not; I take your argument to mean that Hollywood is focusing its energies on producing fewer, higher-quality but costlier movies, but that can't be true. It might be argued that it's focusing on making fewer, reliably higher-revenue movies, but if that's what you meant I'd suggest choosing other examples. Both are classics, neither we're great box office successes, and Treasure of the Sierra Madre was more expensive to make).

Also, I get that this has become an immutable talking point, but a glance at the top performing movies of 2012 tends to rebut your view that Hollywood is anti-mlke, anti-heterosexual, anti-military, etc. Unless you have a different reading of The Avengers than I do (though I admit there were hints of a homosocial friendship between Tony Stark & Bruce Banner that are worth exploring...). And, yeah, fine, there aren't tons of movies with Islamist terrorists as villains (though there are some. Zero Dark Thirty comes immediately to mind; a little googling could certainly yield more). But I'm not sure really why that matters. Also, The Siege came out in 1998, so not sure it's relevant for your point.

In conclusion, what are you talking about?

+1. WTF is he talking about? Hollywood is anti-military?! How does one classify the many action / war movies / marine movies?

Hollywood is anti-heterosexual? Anti-male?! I'm lost.

You agree that the number of films Hollywood is making is declining and that they are focusing on fewer, reliably higher revenue movies? And isn't that just agreeing with what I said?

The top performing films is also my point. The audience is there for films that do not hate White heterosexual males. As can be seen by what people buy. But does Hollywood want to make those films? Well, a good test would be whether they reward them. And no they don't. They give awards to films that are contemptuous of ordinary Americans.

Even so, if you look at the Iron Man series, first, obviously, the US government and the military is the problem and the bad guy. Even in the Avengers the American government is distinctly dubious in an ethical sense. Second, they have a great heterosexual hero in Tony Stark. But of course they have to emasculate him and make him grovel at the feet of his secretary for some unknown reason. It just does not make sense even for the plot of the films. And needless to say what looked like Islamic terrorism was not, obviously, Muslims at all but some WASP guy. Who would have seen that coming? Zero Dark Thirty is based on historic events. They can't claim Osama Bin Laden is actually a White South African. Even if they wanted.

Rahul, it depends on the war movie. America used to make movies that showed the American military in a good light. Oddly enough those films made lots of money. Top Gun must be a great example of what people want to see. What awards did it win? Virtually none from the industry (except for music). But it did win the People's Choice award.

There is Hollywood's problem. They do not value what their audience does.

What war movies have they made since? Well how did the Gulf War go down? We got the awful Three Kings. Which needless to say blamed everything on America. And showed the American Army as full of corrupt and incompetent poor White trash. Jarhead which was not much better.

And Hollywood never learns. People liked Top Gun. Make something like Top Gun? No. They make something like Green Zone. Of which I quote: "Although the film generally received positive critical reviews, it was a box office flop, as it cost $100 million to produce while the global theatrical runs only gave $94,882,549 in gross revenue." They just never ever learn. They churn out anti-war film after anti-war film and wonder why even the Chinese don't pay to see them. The situation is so bad that the Hurt Locker can pass as a pro-military film.

Life of Pi also did extremely well internationally, and contained religious themes with a very broad appeal. In addition, in many ways Life of Pi encapsulated the common view that globalization and secularism are alienating mankind from God.

Maybe I am committing the sin of being insufficiently cynical about Hollywood, but perhaps movies about Muslim terrorists today is too obvious and not escapist, while movies with a twist on reality where omg the army are the bad guys provide more interesting fiction.

After the twentieth film in a row in where omg the army is the bad guys, it no longer is interesting.

And, the bad guys don't have to be obviously Muslim. How about a film where the bad guys are some obviously deranged cult dropping Sarin gas in a subway? Is that too outlandish for audiences to believe? And, if audiences want escapism, then how do you explain the success of movies in the 50s and 60s with obvious Cold War overtones? Can you name a single good, successful War on Terrorism movie before Zero Dark Thirty?

Too many writers and producers are trying to push their politics too hard. This is the driving reason behind the success of reality TV these days. Look at the partisan breakdown between the audience of 30 Rock and Mad Men with that of Dancing With the Stars and Duck Dynasty, and tell me again that Hollywood isn't alienating their own customers to an astonishing degree. Many in Hollywood like to tell themselves that it is because their audiences aren't sophisticated, when in fact, they are the ones lacking sophistication.

Audiences in the 50s & 60s loved different dresses, music and haircuts too.

Times change. Tastes change.

while movies with a twist on reality where omg the army are the bad guys provide more interesting fiction.

Also, your not as likely to get shot and then decapitated if you make a movie where the bad guy is the US military.

Well, I guess it's all relative. Relative to the mainstream in the USA, the most patriotic and pro-military country in the western hemisphere, Hollywood may be anti-military and anti-patriotic. By any other comparison that comes to mind? No.

Yes. Spot on. America discriminates against Christians... and WASPs...

You are really down the rabbit hole.

Perhaps the fact that American TV shows don't need to pander to the tastes of global audiences (India, China esp.) is an important explanatory factor for their artistic merit?

Today is the "blame the chinese day" I think. China people with their money are responsible for Fast and Furious 8.

F&F is mostly a mexican thing

I recommend the American Dad episode "American Stepdad" for an interesting preview of Fast & Furious 7.

But that was true in the 1990s, too, when American TV was of rather low quality. Then the market for TV drama segmented into ultra-cheap "reality" and expensive transgressive fiction.

Was it of such low quality? As you point out, today's highs are higher, but the lows are much lower.

I don't know if it was so low-quality. It seems to be so in retrospect. But I think it is undeniable that the current, drama-based critical acclaim of US TV began with The West Wing and The Sopranos, not so much Dallas. People really liked "ER" but we'd now see it as occupying the same middle-ground as reached by "Law and Order". Furthermore, the audience for reality TV is almost entirely domestic, barring a few series like Survivor, which suggests the foreign Hollywood audience isn't the bad guy.

I don’t know if it was so low-quality. It seems to be so in retrospect. But I think it is undeniable that the current, drama-based critical acclaim of US TV began with The West Wing and The Sopranos, not so much Dallas.

What about Hill Street Blues? St. Elsewhere? etc.

That missing middle ground is why I assert TV overall is of lower quality today. Also, dramas are only a small portion of what is on television.

Also, Dallas went off the air in 1991, so I don't know why you would even bring that into the conversation. The original that is.

you need to go back to "Hill Street Blues" in the early '80s; that was the wake-up call for good dramatic TV. Followed closely by "St. Elsewhere". Those shows don't necessarily hold up all that well today, but they pioneered the character-driven, multi-episode story arcs of the shows you mention. But really, "The West Wing"?

People actually did like The West Wing... maybe it's not the ideal TV show for MR readers, but that'd be a show about some strange mix of racial determinism and markets in morally-repugnant transactions, which probably wouldn't appeal to a large audience.

Now that the TV drama market is segmented, it's easier to access the quality you want, and nobody forces you to watch the rest. You dislike reality TV, other people dislike violence, other people dislike soppy romance. None of us have to settle for a 90s-style melange of all in one show, so we're all better off (unless we're masochists). I address this genre because I don't see comparably big changes in how Americans do news, comedy or sports.

Then you're not paying attention.

You can take the time to insult someone who doesn't disagree with you much, and yet you can't take the time to provide an example that justifies your rebuttal?

Tyler titles this post "The problem with Hollywood" in the URL, but he's committing the modern liberal vice again: "to rule out foreigners from the relevant moral universe". Modern Hollywood probably makes the world as a whole much better off.

Furthermore, it is not even clear that Americans could support a film industry organised on pre-1960s lines if they wanted to, given all the changes in competition law and entertainment technology that have prevailed since then.

Sequels are extremely common in contemporary American TV, which enjoys relatively more praise than contemporary American cinema from intelligent Americans, except that sequels on TV are often called "series".

I was perusing some past films of decent directors and was kerfluffled by how often it was "budget $30Million, gross: $2Million." But then the director knocks out a hit and can then go back to making experimental, personal type movies. So, there may be plenty of cross-subsidization going long as you have a way to access the variety and screen for quality.

You seem confused between the concept of sequels and serial fiction.

You seem unable to explain the substantive difference.

Few TV writers can be sure that they're getting a second series. If they do, we usually end up with a somewhat-similar cast, different plotlines and an openness to people aware of, but not familiar with, the first instalment. In other words, what we'd call a sequel in Hollywood.

Those numbers are also consistent with the following two claims:

(1) "the international market has grown over time relative to the domestic market" and
(2) "foreign markets do not encourage Hollywood sequels any more than they encourage the production of any other Hollywood movie"

But "Expanded Markets Increase Revenues" is a less exciting title for a blog post, I suppose.

So the big problem in Hollywood is they are too successful in foreign markets? We are stuck with Ice Age Whatever (even my 10 year kids were bored with it) but it was a wise investment.

There are a dozen or so African countries in the Western hemisphere,
and all the South American countries are in this hemisphere too.
In contrast to many of these countries, the most successful U.S. politicians do not wear their military medals in public, and the U.S. army is not ever expecting to go to war after hurt feelings from a soccer match. I am sure one or more of those countries has enough of a film output to support or disprove a claim that the U.S. has an unusual-for-the-Western hemisphere penchant towards or against patriotic, pro-military, non-anti-Christian and otherwise non-bigoted films.
Back to the topic of TC's post, my favorite sequels ever were from Eric Rohmer, definitely not an American.

Assuming that's a reply to my comment above, I should not have used the word "hemisphere", given that some people are even more literal-minded than myself. What was meant: Affluent western nations, i.e., western Europe and Northern America. The "western" in "western Europe" here refers to those countries that are not formerly communist.

I can agree with that, but had to think about Mexico and Ireland. (One is not quite affluent, the other is not as different as it used to be).

Heh, I was working under the assumption that "Northern America" is agreed to start at the U.S.-Mexican border. Ireland was meant to be included.

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