During the holidays, 40 new movies unreeled in American theaters, and their box office receipts said a lot about the nation’s collective mood. Teens were hot (Scream, Beavis and Butt-head Do America); old folks were not (The Evening Star, My Fellow Americans); and romantic comedies (The Preacher’s Wife, One Fine Day) got the cold shoulder, unless a dose of guy appeal (Jerry Maguire, Michael) gave them staying power.
But such trends tell just part of the story. Each of those films has yet to prove its worth overseas and on video. According to Variety, the 100 top-grossing films of 1996 took in $4.48 billion in North America and have made $5 billion overseas. A film’s domestic performance usually foretells its fate in international theaters and video stores (Independence Day, for instance, is No. 1 across the board, grossing more than $1 billion domestically, internationally, and on video). But there’s always a chance for a comeback or comeuppance when a movie leaves the American cineplex to pursue its fortunes elsewhere. On the following pages, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY has compiled an exclusive up-to-the-minute account of the year’s worldwide hits and misses.
In 1996, foreign audiences embraced kids’ movies — Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which took in $100 million in North America, earned more than $200 million abroad — and preferred big breasts and big explosions to all-American fare. Demi Moore’s sex romp Striptease flopped domestically but came back in other venues. Same with the action movie Daylight, starring Sylvester Stallone, whose non-English-speaking fans are more loyal than his countrymen. And if you wonder why Sharon Stone is still sought despite a string of duds, note that Diabolique’s mediocre domestic grosses more than doubled overseas. (The presence of costar Isabelle Adjani didn’t hurt.) The hit Mr. Holland’s Opus simply didn’t work on other shores, and judging from the overseas washout of Kevin Costner’s Tin Cup, golf is not a big sport in Timbuktu.
In other words, don’t judge a film commercially until you have walked around the globe in its shoes, then wandered into the video store down the street. Based on its unwaning popularity and Oscar buzz, Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire should ultimately make a smashing $140 million domestically at the box office. But its overseas prospects are less certain. Cruise’s name bodes well (Mission: Impossible, which ranked behind Twister and Independence Day among U.S. moneymakers, came in second internationally), but foreign audiences may not want to shell out their francs and lire for a sophisticated comedy about American sports. Meanwhile, 101 Dalmatians is off to a running start and will probably become part of many parents’ video libraries. By this time next year, Disney will look back on the film’s current worldwide gross of $190 million as a promising yet quaint number.
No matter what the figures ultimately show, however, Jerry Maguire is a triumph for Cruise. And no number of sold-out shows in Swaziland will ever cause Striptease to be seen as a hit. Why? Perception. Only U.S. audiences can declare a star hot, and studios need a good record here to attract projects and talent. While Stallone’s global appeal ensured a profit for Daylight, its domestic failure makes it a dim spot on his resume and an embarrassment for Universal.