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Sean P. Means: Hollywood dances around the World Cup

Published June 19, 2014 11:29 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The world loves watching Hollywood blockbusters.

So what happens when the world is busy watching something else?

The blockbusters go bye-bye.

With most of the world — and a vocal minority in the United States, including me — tuning in to the soccer action at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Hollywood's movie studios have decided not to push their biggest export product: action movies.

The only studio movies opening this weekend are the nostalgic musical "Jersey Boys" and the relationship comedy "Think Like a Man Too." Last week, the studios gave us an action comedy, "22 Jump Street," and the animated "How to Train Your Dragon 2."

The last action movie to be released, "Edge of Tomorrow," came out in U.S. theaters on June 6 — the last Friday before the World Cup started.

"Edge of Tomorrow" had a tepid opening weekend for a big-budget action movie, with $40 million and a third-place standing behind two female-driven dramas, "The Fault in Our Stars" and "Maleficent."

The studio, Warner Bros., was consoled slightly because the same weekend, "Edge of Tomorrow" was No. 1 in China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey, among others, according to Box Office Mojo.

China is most significant among those, because its population is so huge. Last weekend, "Godzilla" opened in China and made $38.2 million in three days, which the Los Angeles Times reported was second only to the opening of "X-Men: Days of Future Past" for the year.

On Friday, June 27, China will get Hollywood's next action monstrosity, "Transformers: Age of Extinction," the same day it opens in the United States. As a recent article in Deadline.com noted, China's national soccer team isn't competing in the World Cup, so audiences there aren't as crazed about the event as other nations.

Deadline.com reported that Paramount Pictures won't release the "Transformers" movie in soccer-mad markets — like France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Mexico — until July, as the World Cup action dwindles to a handful of teams, or August.

Not that Hollywood is avoiding foreign markets entirely during the World Cup. In the same Deadline.com article, it's noted that DreamWorks will open "How to Train Your Dragon 2" in Brazil this weekend. Yes, the World Cup is still going strong, but Brazil, as the host country, has declared a school holiday — and DreamWorks is banking that enough kids are likely to prefer a movie to a soccer game.

Hollywood's international gamesmanship during the World Cup is an instructive lesson in how American movies play abroad — and how foreign markets help determine what movies get made.

Look at the movies that topped the U.S. box-office charts last year. The highest-grossing movie last year was "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," starring Jennifer Lawrence, with $424.7 million. Second place was "Iron Man 3," starring Robert Downey Jr., with $409 million, and Disney's "Frozen" was third with $400.7 million.

That's the ranking domestically. In the foreign markets, the ranking is reversed: "Frozen" is on top with $852 million, "Iron Man 3" is second with $806.4 million, and "Catching Fire" actually comes in fourth internationally (behind "Despicable Me 2") with $439.9 million.

When a Hollywood executive is presented with these numbers, he (and it usually is a he) will still greenlight sequels to the "Iron Man" franchise and "The Hunger Games" — but he'll likely give Downey a bigger paycheck than Lawrence.

Another telling figure: The highest-grossing comedy of 2013, "The Heat," made $159.6 million domestically, but only $70.3 internationally. Comedies don't sell as well outside the United States, because what's funny varies from place to place. Everybody can understand explosions without subtitles.

It's not that Hollywood won't make all different types of movies. But it will spend a moderate amount for a comedy (the budget on "The Heat" was about $43 million), but $200 million for an action blockbuster. Hollywood is an industry, and what matters first isn't a movie's quality but the return on investment.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.