Sample Book Chapters

Chapter 12 - Foreign Films

Chapter summaries in this section of the website are distilled from 139,000 words in the book.
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“I like a film to have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.”
                   filmmaker Jean Luc Godard
  When discussing foreign movies, what usually comes to mind is art house, esoteric cinema that is most closely associated with Western Europe. Such a notion may have been the case in past decades, but today there are several diverse strands of foreign films in the domestic market (United States and Canada).
   Foreign-language films aimed at the art-house market usually open on an exclusive basis—one theater per city—hoping to ride a wave of positive reviews in media and audience word of mouth to wider release. The goal is to expand to fifty to two hundred theaters. The flipside of this strategy is that if critical kudos and audiences don’t materialize in the
early, narrow release,

Fig. 12.2 Nowhere in Africa roll-out
Date/Number of Screens/Cities+Comment
March 7         2  premieres New York, Los Angeles
March 14     11  more screens added in N.Y. and L. A.
March 21     16  Chicago added
March 23     n/a wins Best Foreign Film Oscar
March 28     33  adds Philly, Seattle, Boston, Fla.
April 4          42  adds San Fran, San Diego, St. Louis,
                           Atlanta, Minneapolis
April 11        61  adds Balt., Clevel., Columbus O., wider
                            Florida, Palm Springs CA
April 18        65  ranks 24th nationally with $352,746 3-
                            day weekend
Source: Zeitgeist Films

then the wider release is scaled back or even abandoned.
  There’s a growing fan base for anime, Japanese animation featuring characters with big eyes and big hair. Anime often targets adult audiences, unlike most Hollywood animation, which aims at kids and families.
   Films using both English and Spanish languages that tell stories about the Latino population in the United States are another strand aiming at a domestic mainstream audience. India’s signature song-and-dance Bollywood films are also a force outside their home country, though so far mostly playing to expatriate Indian/Southeast Asian communities in the domestic market.
   Foreign-language films aimed at the art-house market usually open on an exclusive basis—one theater per city—hoping to ride a wave of positive reviews in media and audience word of mouth to wider release. The goal is to expand from the tiny two city launch, as was the case for Best Foreign Film Oscar winner Nowhere in Africa below. The flipside of this strategy is that if critical kudos and audiences don’t materialize in the early, narrow release, then the wider release is scaled back or even abandoned.  
   The highest-grossing foreign-language film in the domestic market is The Passion of the Christ, which took a staggering $370 million in box office via Newmarket Films in 2004. The period epic from Mel Gibson uses subtitles because the dialog is in the ancient Aramaic language.
   Despite occasional hits, foreign-language films are a small slice of domestic box office. Just $1.5 million in domestic box office is often considered a success, although as noted previously, a small number of foreign-language films have achieved a larger, sizable box office (see table 12.1).
Copyright © 2013, Robert Marich. All rights reserved. Used here with permission from SIU Press.