An article by K. M. McFarland in Wired about Warcraft the other week got me thinking about how the global marketplace for films has been changing.
Simply put, Warcraft has done dismally in the U.S. box office. Just $46 million as of last Friday. Against its $160 million production budget, that’s awful — all the more so when you realize that $160 million doesn’t account for “prints and advertising,” an ever-growing expense that can often equal the production budget.
But guess what? The U.S. box office accounts for a little less than 11% of Warcraft’s take. It’s made over $422 million worldwide so far, so its sequel is probably there if the studio wants it.
We’ve known for some time that Hollywood has been looking overseas to make a good chunk of its money. I think I first realized this focus with the 2004 film Troy. Its performance in the U.S. was unremarkable, even disappointing. It didn’t make its production budget of $175 million. But combined with its international haul, it made nearly $500 million theatrically.
We’ve known too that Hollywood, in its quest to finance ever-growing blockbuster budgets, has been getting funds from overseas. We can rattle off a host of tentpole films with scenes in China from The Dark Knight onward. And as of this year, tentpole financier Legendary Entertainment is a subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate. While Hollywood is an undeniable center of gravity in the film world, it now launches its projects with an eye to escape the orbit of the United States.
With Warcraft, we’re now seeing how some of these films might not only have interest in the global market, but how these films might be of interest in the global market excluding the United States. As a cultural/entertainment hegemon, this is a rather shocking development. As someone who grew up with the films of John Ford and Akira Kurosawa (aka films from outside of current time and space), I don’t find this necessarily bad… but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I sometimes enjoy being part of the cultural/entertainment hegemony.
Hegemonic feelings aside, I am somewhat concerned though that this trend will exacerbate the overall trend towards eliminating “mid-budget films.” Nowadays, I suppose that means films in the $40 million to $70 million range. Spielberg’s Lincoln would fit this model ($65 million), as would his more recent Bridge of Spies ($40 million). But besides ‘Oscar contender’ films, a whole host of solid, grown-up films used to be released with regularity by the studios. I suppose much of that content and its budgets have been transposed to TV, but I’m sure some potential film projects have been lost in the process.
And that’s a shame. Because there’s a place for those mid range movies among the dirt-cheap indies and the blockbuster features. And there’s a place for the people who make them. It reminds me of publishers and the “mid range authors,” a variety of writer that seems to have been on the way out for over a decade (you can read more about the decrease of mid-list authors both here and here).
I guess we’ll see. We’re also experiencing a huge uptick in scripted series, so it could be film projects haven’t really been lost so much as transformed into mini-series. In any case, I’ll be interested to see what Warcraft’s final numbers are, if there will be a sequel, and if this means there will be a whole new crop of Hollywood franchises that aren’t looking to make it big in the U.S. if they can make it big elsewhere.