To date, the Ridley and Russell
reunion tour has coaxed a mere $66.1m (£46m) from audiences across the pond. That's small change for a tentpole release these days – especially one that reportedly cost $200m – and Robin Hood will do well to creep past $100m before the theatrical cycle comes to a close. But studio heads know that even when a movie disappoints in the domestic market, they can, if the circumstances are right, rely on the international arena to prop it up.
That usually means having a universal, well-executed story with recognisable cast. Comedies, for example, are notoriously poor travellers because of cultural differences. The way the studios see it, everybody responds to a gun and a girl, but not everybody will get a gag. So something like MacGruber (see chart below), the US comedy that opened poorly over the weekend and is based on a sketch known only to Saturday Night Live aficionados, would appear to be dead in the water.
But if you've got an action movie directed by Ridley Scott that boasts a firmament of international stars like Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, veteran William Hurt and the darkly charismatic Mark Strong, you'll fancy your chances overseas. Universal's international distribution machine has drummed up $125m for Robin Hood so far, and that's in line with the received wisdom that a major studio release tends to gross two-thirds of its worldwide total outside North America.
But even a slickly produced movie with a name cast needs a leg-up, and any marketing maven will tell you that in the pantheon of leg-ups they don't rank any higher than the Cannes international film festival. Previous Hollywood releases like The Da Vinci Code and Shrek 2 have benefited from a promotional push on the Cote d'Azur, and Robin Hood is no different.
The studio saved money on a global publicity tour because it got the world's press in one place and created a nice buzz in the opening weekend. The follow-up weekend was solid, and the movie's international gross will end up sparing Universal's blushes. After a relatively soft opening weekend in North America for Shrek Forever After, the DreamWorks Animation-Paramount people might be wishing they'd secured an opening night berth on the Croisette, too. Then again, that movie's initial international foray over the weekend delivered excellent results.
Kites is a Bollywood movie that sneaked into the top 10 this weekend. It was released through Reliance Big Pictures, a division of the influential Indian telecoms, finance and entertainment conglomerate Reliance ADA Group that partially bankrolled Steven Spielberg's new-look DreamWorks and has been running around Hollywood signing production deals with a host of talent from Brad Pitt to Julia Roberts to Brett Ratner.