There seems to be the common belief that Star Wars is not doing all that well at the box office outside North America. The struggle and failure of Star Wars at the Chinese box office has been much discussed. But how do the movies actually perform outside North America? And how does Star Wars compare to other modern day blockbusters, from the MCU and other franchises? You may be somewhat surprised by the results! So click through for a closer look at Star Wars at the foreign box office!
For the extremely lazy and for Paul, who simply doesn’t read my articles, there is a short summary at the end of the article! But I encourage you to look at the charts and read the text!
For this article I tried to find recent movies that rival or surpass the Disney Star Wars movies at the worldwide or US domestic box office. I tried to find matching movies for each Star Wars movie, so there are movies that rival or surpass The Force Awakens, as well as Solo. So, for example, I selected Endgame, Infinity War and Black Panther to match The Force Awakens, or Venom and Ant-Man and the Wasp to match Solo, to see where the differences are.
Of course, my list of movies is somewhat arbitrary, but many recent blockbusters and the direct competition are on the list, so I think we can still learn a thing or two by looking at the numbers. The article will feature many bar charts, I will try to write as little text as possible. If you are really lazy and hate reading, the bar charts themselves will already give you a good overview.
I want to start by showing you the domestic North American box office for the movies I selected, as a baseline:
The Star Wars movies are the red bars, Avengers Endgame is the green bar (which is still in theaters) and Black Panther is the yellow bar. This will be the same for each of the charts. Please observe where Endgame (2nd place) and Black Panther (3rd place) are.
To put things in overall perspective here is the chart for the foreign box office totals:
As you can see Endgame takes the lead here, and it’s not even close. Even Infinity War outperforms The Force Awakens. However, see how Black Panther falls behind and performs worse than The Last Jedi and even James Bond’s Spectre worldwide. And see where The Fate of the Furious is positioned, it’s in 4th place, outperforming even Avengers Age of Ultron.
As you can see with the exception of Solo, Star Wars can more or less keep up with the competition, but both Avengers movies I listed, and especially so Endgame are in a league of their own.
And while Solo can more or less keep up with competitors such as Venom or Ant-Man and the Wasp in the US, it falls behind outside North America. Only “Us” performs even worse abroad.
But let’s take a look at various international markets. For this I selected the Star Wars core markets, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia and some of the important emerging / non core markets, China, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil and Russia.
Let’s look at the UK:
As you can see The Force Awakens easily outclasses everything else in the UK. Endgame, while a phenomenon worldwide, can’t even keep up with Spectre and is abreast with The Last Jedi. Both The Last Jedi and Rogue One outperform Infinity War and Black Panther. Solo outperforms Ant-Man and the Wasp and can about keep up with Venom, Aquaman or Dr. Strange, not too bad, even if it’s still a disappointment for Star Wars.
Things are similar in France, but here Spectre is not as popular as in the UK, which is not too surprising. In France even The Last Jedi outperformed Endgame, and Rogue One made more money than Black Panther.
Once again, things look similar in Germany, but there are some things of note: in Germany The Last Jedi easily outperforms any Marvel movie, no contest, and James Bond is also very popular here, always has been. But even Rogue One can leave any MCU movie but Endgame behind. Solo, while still weak, is on par with Venom, Dr. Strange and Mission Impossible, but outperforms both Coco and Ant-Man and the Wasp. Us was no hit here.
Germany is Star Wars territory, even more so than France and the UK, always has been since 1977. It has to be noted though, the Germans aren’t very eager moviegoers, box office in the UK is higher usually. For The Force Awakens it’s about $50 million more in the UK, despite the smaller population size. But Star Wars is a lot more popular than any modern superhero franchise in Germany.
And now Japan:
Japan is culturally different, Beauty and the Beast is the most successful movie (from the movies I selected), but even here both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi outperform Endgame. Japan is not too fond of the MCU as a whole, With the exception of Endgame even Rogue One outperforms all the MCU movies I selected.
And now Australia:
The Australians also love Star Wars, but here both Endgame and Infinity War outperform all Star Wars movies but The Force Awakens. But the other MCU movies can’t keep up with Star Wars, only Solo is the sole exception here, once again, but it’s not lagging too far behind the competition here.
Those were the five legacy markets, now let’s take a look at the emerging / non core markets, how does Star Wars fare in these countries?
First up, the big player, China:
What can we say… Star Wars is just a colossal failure in China. The Chinese LOVE superhero movies, as long as they are not Black Panther, that is. Car chases are also popular, as it seems. China is, at the moment, a lost cause for Star Wars. Please note that “Us” was not released in China.
And now South Korea, another very important Asian market:
Things are very similar here. South Koreans turn a cold shoulder to Star Wars and just don’t care. Solo is hardly registering anymore, but each of the movies is just a huge financial disappointment. South Koreans love superheroes!
Let’s look at Mexico:
No, Mexico doesn’t really love Star Wars all that much, it seems. But Mexicans love superheroes as well! In Mexico even Venom or Ant-Man and the Wasp outperform The Last Jedi and Rogue One. And Captain Marvel puts even The Force Awakens in place in Mexico. Diego Luna didn’t boost box office for Rogue One either.
Let’s travel south to Brazil, another important South American market:
Things are very similar, Star Wars can’t keep up, movies like Dr. Strange which are far less successful in the US or elsewhere outperform even The Last Jedi or Rogue One.
And finally, a look at Russia, which is also yet another emerging market:
The Force Awakens did ok, but the other three Star Wars movies not so much anymore, each subsequent movie did worse than the one before. The Russians too love American superheroes, oh, and car chases.
After this deluge of charts I want to consolidate things a bit and give you a look at how the movies perform in the legacy and emerging markets:
As you can see an interesting picture emerges: Star Wars does a whole let better in the core legacy markets. Of the movies selected, only Infinity War and Endgame outperform Rogue One, eveything else is not as successful.
Which should be no surprise anymore after looking at the individual charts for each country. But see where the differences are, the emerging markets clearly favor superheroes, dinosaurs and car chases. More traditional (somewhat older) franchises such as Star Wars, James Bond or even some animation like Finding Dory do much better in the traditional markets. You can see that more recent franchises do incredibly well in the emerging markets. Most of that can be attributed to China.
And a look at the two giants at the box office: USA (North America really) and China!
You can see that as of now the USA/North America is still outperforming China. But the gap is closing and some movies, like Venom or especially Fate of the Furious, already perform better in China.
You can also see once more how abysmal the figures for Star Wars are in China.
And finally, before I will provide some analysis, a look at foreign box office percentage:
A modern Hollywood blockbuster usually makes something like 60-70% outside North Americam with several movies even surpassing that. You can see how all the Star Wars movies don’t come even close. What is also of note perhaps is how seriously Black Panther and Us underperform in foreign markets when compared with the average.
This intrigued me, so I took a short detour and looked the foreign box office results for recent Hollywood movies with a predominantly black cast or where “race” was one of the topics in the movie:
I will not go into all that much detail here, but it’s certainly interesting to see that with the sole exception of Moonlight (which has a low overall box office and was a festival movie) all the movies with either a predominantly black main cast, or that have racial relations as one of the topics, underperform outside North America, when the Hollywood average is something north of 60%, with many movies even reaching 70% or more. We can speculate about the reasons here, I will say this: it appears political sensitivies in the US are not shared as much by people elsewhere.
But back on topic, after seeing all these charts and looking at the box office results a picture emerges: Star Wars is generally doing pretty fine in the core legacy markets, where Star Wars, for the most part, even outperforms worldwide MCU box office juggernauts. Only in the UK and Australia Avengers Endgame outperformed The Last Jedi. But in neither country Endgame could beat The Force Awakens.
But the picture reverses in the emerging markets, Star Wars is just performing very poorly here.
Now the ultimate questions is: what should Lucasfilm do? You can see why they might want to try again in China and elsewhere. If you hit it big there, you hit it really big. But then again, maybe Lucasfilm should think about the fans and customers they DO have and not the ones they might never have. So maybe it would be wise to focus more on foreign markets like the UK, Germany, France, Japan and Australia.
It’s pretty aparent that fans in China, South Korea and even Mexico, Brazil or Russia are pretty “meh” or even apathetic about Star Wars. And it seems hiring Mexican actors or Chinese actors or Vietnamese actors doesn’t change that at all. And while I am joking now, maybe it’s not a complete coincidence that Lucasfilm hired a prominent German to portray a character in The Mandalorian, which is a first for the franchise. Maybe Lucasfilm should think about hiring a famous French actor as well for one of the upcoming movies, and maybe a Japanese star as well.
Which brings us back to the ultimate question: quo vadis, Star Wars? Should Lucasfilm try to win the hearts of fans in the emerging markets or will Star Wars always be a franchise, similar to James Bond, that mostly appeals to fans in the traditional markets?
And that also brings us to Hasbro: considering the popularity of Star Wars in several European core markets, plus Japan and Australia, one might think Hasbro should do much more in these countries, to please fans with affordable and desirable merchandise. As things are now the fans there feel left behind.
So, what are your thoughts now? Does it surprise you that the MCU, while really successful pretty much everywhere, is still mostly playing second fiddle to Star Wars in the most important legacy markets? Should Lucasfilm try their luck in China once more with the new movies – or just admit that Star Wars will never really appeal to people in certain countries, and focus much more on the fans they DO have, namely in the European heartland, plus Japan and Australia?
With China becoming increasingly important I feel that Disney will try again with the new movies. I believe they will not succeed once more and I think Star Wars will just be like James Bond, a vastly popular franchise in some countries, not so much everywhere else. So maybe Lucasfilm should do their best not to alienate the fans they do have. The upcoming Disney+ shows most certainly cater to that core audience, which seems a very good idea, given the current situation. Be happy with what you have instead of being unhappy about the things you can’t have.
Do you agree? What is your opinion here? Do you believe China and the other emerging markets can be won over eventually, with a fresh start into the franchise that has no ties to the OT and previous movies?
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