Following the film industry is something I do frequently enough to merit a tag.
One article in Wired, by K. M. McFarland, that particularly caught my notice last July noted how the expensive fantasy epic Warcraft did miserably in the United States, yet comfortably in the rest of the world.
So now we have an article by Todd VanDerWerff in Vox that also explores that divide between the U.S. and global box office. Look at those lists of top grossing films: how many of you are wondering who the demons are, and why do they want to strike back?
I’m probably not alone among American film lovers used to having a general idea of the top grossing films of the year, but that’s because up until recently, it’s because reports on the top-grossing films in North America and worldwide are very close. It’s kind of like late last year, when I discovered there are 14 Land Before Time films. Certainly, kids like dinosaurs. Certainly, I’m not the target demographic for those films, but 13 sequels and a TV show have been made?!?
And, as I implied in last year’s post, my ongoing interest isn’t simply personal, but what this means for how film projects are approved and financed. We’ve been long accustomed to films and TV shows seeking the largest possible audiences — it’s just that now North American audiences have been shown to not be the ever-indispensable part of that coalition (though it’s still significant more often than not).
The interesting thing is that the Hollywood studios appear all the more aware of their global audiences — and they have the funding and inclination to accommodate different global niches. So there are slightly tweaked versions of Disney’s latest animated fare, additional or expanded scenes for Chinese audiences in the latest action blockbusters, and more.
Netflix seems to be very savvy about this, aided by the prodigious amount of data they’ve collected on the viewing habits of their subscribers. One of their latest series premieres, Ultimate Beastmaster, is their global answer to American Ninja Warrior (itself, a version of the Japanese show, Sasuke). It’s structured and shot in such a way so that it’s basically six regional versions: American (English-speaking), Brazilian (Portuguese-speaking), Mexican (Spanish-speaking), Japanese, Korean, and German.
(I’m sure the French, irked by the snub at not deemed worthy of becoming Beastmasters, will shortly launch counter programming in the form of The Next French Legionnaire.)
These local/expert versions make me think of the Hollywood practice during the early “talkie” era when they would shoot several versions of the film in different languages (dubbing and subtitling eventually replaced this). While I don’t think Ultimate Beastmaster means we’re going to go back to the future in all productions, I do notice a wide assortment of subtitles on many of Netflix’s offerings — and many of them clearly originate from elsewhere or have a non-American audience as their primary audience.
I’m sure that means that, before the year is out, I’ll be faced with another wildly successful show or film that I’ve never heard of, but appeals to the tastes of global filmgoers. In fact, even now, I’m sure the cinematic equivalent of Coke III is being greenlit.