As we get rolling into the new year, optimism and caution are part of the outlook for 2022 at the international box office.
The issue of China also remains top of mind as the territory — which maintained its status as the top global market in 2021 — has been even more ornery to navigate than usual, notably not approving a single movie with a Marvel character last year, from Disney’s Black Widow straight through to Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Before we dig further into China, however, let’s take a look at the overall international picture.
Seeking A “Version” Of Normal Moviegoing
No Way Home may prove to have been a pivotal turning point in hindsight, but Omicron is still out there, piracy remains a concern, and Q1 is looking like it may be soft. Studios consult epidemiologists, and based on those discussions, some execs expect the overseas landscape to settle by the time March comes along and spring has sprung — at least in the northern hemisphere — ushering in a “version” of normal moviegoing.
Markets around the world are experiencing different cycles of restrictions and closures while some — notably Korea, a habitual powerhouse that saw its global ranking drop a notch in 2021 — have been sluggish throughout the pandemic, with South East Asia taking a big hit. Others are coming back strong (think the European majors and Australia), and Saudi Arabia is poised for growth in the year ahead. One lesson that’s been increasingly learned is that offshore markets need to be open to as high a degree as possible in order to maximize a film’s potential.
Although there is a sense we’ll see less date-jockeying and fewer shifts to day-and-date streaming, changes remain an option amid the uncertainty of Covid’s future. Disney in just the past few days decided to send Pixar’s Turning Red to its Disney+ premium service (the only major studio platform that currently has a significant offshore footprint).
A finance source believes, “You’ll see more studios releasing and not holding product, not selling off to streamers because they want the exhibitors to know they are providing a certain piece of product.”
Says an international distribution exec: “Research is showing that the film experience is a lot safer than other social experiences out there. It’s our job to keep trying to surprise people, to get them to feel a heightened emotion so they can walk out of a theater feeling like when they see others in the same place they say, ‘Wow, isn’t that something? We experienced that all together.’ At home they know they’re not going to get that.”