Why America is Not Hollywood’s Target Market Anymore

Source: Paramount

Source: Paramount

What defines a “flop” in Hollywood? The answer to this question seems simple, and has long been “a terrible movie that didn’t make a lot of money.” But not every terrible movie fails at the box office, and not every box office failure is a terrible movie. Much of what embodies a “flop” is in our perception. The word gets attached to most movies that stumble in their opening weekends, and from there is difficult to shake. John Carter was a flop three days into it being released. The Lone Ranger is considered an abject misfire even two years after the fact. More recently, Terminator: Genisys found itself in the early running for “Biggest Flop of 2015,” making just $89 million domestically on a $155 million production budget.

So why is Genisys a slam dunk for a sequel? You can thank the foreign movie market for that, and more specifically China. On its first day in theaters in the People’s Republic of China, it made a cool $27.4 million, helping run the full foreign gross up to a whopping $263 million. Thanks to this, we have a clear-cut case of a flop that in reality isn’t really a “flop” for all intents and purposes. It’s a strange example of a perception vs. reality situation: American audiences and critics largely derided Genisys, causing us all to dismiss it offhand as a relative failure of a film.

But the opinions of the American market mean little when the rest of the world is helping a studio make back their money. It’s worth noting that Terminator: Genisys has yet to get official confirmation for a sequel, thanks in large part to Paramount waiting on the wide international release. It’s a continuation of a trend that’s quietly been developing in recent years: America is no longer Hollywood’s target market, and it’s not really close.

Let’s take for example the Fast and the Furious franchise. It’s a no-brainer box office hit every time a sequel hits theaters. The perception surrounding each movie is that everyone enjoyed everything about them, and you wouldn’t be wrong for agreeing with that opinion. But over its seven movies, the people who are filling theaters are decidedly not American. The domestic vs. foreign gross for the first installment in 2001 seemed fairly par for the course: 70% American money, 30% overseas. For 2015’s Furious 7 though, we see a massive reversal that’s been a decade plus in the making. Foreign gross totaled over a whopping $1 billion, $360 million of which was accounted for by the Chinese market.

We see this trend across the board, from Transformers to San Andreas. It’s why we may very well never see an end to the Terminator franchise, and why Hollywood has long since stopped marketing primarily to domestic audiences. Ask yourself, when in the last five or so years have you see a Chinese villain? The answer is”not often,” thanks in large part to that very country acting as a primary market for the modern film industry. Transformers: Age of Extinction even went so far as to include Chinese product placement, and an unnecessary subplot that depicted the Chinese government heroically saving the world.

This all circles us back to what defines a true “flop.” More and more, it’s getting difficult to nail down a solid definition. A movie that’s a flop to American audiences has the potential to be a smash hit overseas, and in turn gives Hollywood an easy out for any sub-par, over-budget release that makes it into theaters. It’s a stark realization to come to, understanding that we as consumers are no longer the sole priority when it comes to marketing a movie. In the end, it makes even the biggest “flops” successful, prolonging dead franchises and thrilling audiences with decidedly different tastes.

All box office numbers come courtesy of Box Office Mojo

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest

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