But Will It Play In Jakarta?

A critical consensus is developing that 2010 is shaping up to be the worst movie year ever, with the number of unimaginative sequels and outright bombs already at a record pace. Now, the Wall Street Journal notes a phenomenon that Big Hollywood types have been writing about for years: Hollywood filmmakers have increasingly tended to downplay American themes and sensibilities in deference to the international market. I am dubious.

When director Adam McKay pitched a sequel to his 2004 hit movie "Anchorman," he thought it would be a no-brainer for Hollywood.

The $20 million comedy, starring Steve Carell and Will Ferrell, grossed more than $90 million at the box office. But only $5 million of that came from ticket sales abroad. Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures nixed the sequel this spring, fearing the comedy's uniquely American brand of humor wouldn't play abroad.

"At the end of the day, the economics of the business have changed—there is so much more pressure to play globally, and we couldn't fight that," says Mr. McKay.

The rising clout of international audiences is a sea change for Hollywood. Decades ago, a movie's foreign box office barely registered with studio executives. Now, foreign ticket sales represent nearly 68% of the roughly $32 billion global film market, up from roughly 58% a decade ago, according to Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service.

That simply does not make sense. Anchorman was one of the most popular, not to mention culturally resonant movies of the last 10 years. You're telling me that there are studio executives who think that there's no way they'll be able to make a tidy profit off of an Anchorman sequel? Because the humor might not make sense to an audience in Rangoon (or wherever)??? I've heard of Hollywood economics, but this takes the cake*.

(The article notes that the international market has become so influential that Hollywood studios are funding pictures made specifically for markets like South Korea and Brazil. So, uh, how about making some movies tailored to the American market like, I don't know, an Anchorman sequel?)

All of this supposedly accounts for why comedies and romantic comedies have become less prevalent. American humor and romantic mores don't transfer well to an international audience, you see. So? Isn't the point to make a profit? If so, you can do so with comedies which are famously cheap to produce. I'm actually amazed that in the era of the Little Depression that studios aren't making more cheap movies, not less. Again, this makes no sense.

It makes even less sense when you think of recent history. When I was a kid back in the Eighties, the Rambo movies were some of the biggest things going. They were unashamedly patriotic, although everyone who didn't make money off of the Rambo franchise did their best to act embarrassed. And they were also huge hits overseas!

To me this looks too much like excuse making. Creative types don't want to make romantic comedies (too formulaic) or comedies (too low brow) and the certainly don't want to make patriotic action movies (too much yucky flag waving!) So they blame the "international market," where they can make all of the anti-American movies they like without facing a financial backlash from the home front.

*for the benefit of Free Will's international audience, "takes the cake"is an obscure American expression meaning "this is the utmost"

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