Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Pacific Rim - A One (Volatile) Market Wonder

It's no secret that I have been considerably critical of the Pacific Rim marketing campaign, having written two articles detailing its inconsistencies and flaws (see here and here). In my opinion, my very critical views were justified after having seen the film.

Pacific Rim is a disjointed action blockbuster that is far too self aware of it's B-Movie status, regardless of the fact that this status is ultimately contradicted by it's huge $190 million+ production budget.

The film's marketing campaign relied far too heavily on the WOW Factor scenario or Giant Monsters vs Giant Robots, which is all well and good, but we've seen it all before. This was a clear indication that the film would ultimately have a limited commercial appeal and certainly not one that could be aimed at all quadrants.

For the most part I was correct, the film has taken an astounding 52 days to cross the $100 million mark in the US. This is disastrous for a summer tent-pole movie with franchise aspirations. The very fact that it has struggled to reach this basic milestone is a strong indication that the movie is a commercial flop. This is also backed up by it's generally disappointing international run, which demonstrated the film's distinct lack of appeal... and then there was China.

At the time of writing this article, Pacific Rim has grossed in excess of $404 million worldwide and will go down as a minor summer success, which is incredibly impressive when taking into account the lukewarm commercial reception for the movie in virtually all of the key markets. Demand for this movie was either incredibly front-loaded or disappointing with key demographics in Japan, Australia, UK and France failing to gain any worthwhile traction at their respective box-offices.

The worldwide success of Pacific Rim can be almost entirely attributed to its phenomenal box-office performance in China where it has grossed in excess of $109 million. This is extraordinary given the fact that it accounts for well over one-third of the movie's international gross and also notably higher than the US. 

Although this film will be classed as an overall success, it should perhaps be considered one more out of sheer luck than anything else. China generally only release three or four Western movies at any given time so audience demand is already at a premium regardless of quality. It must also be acknowledged that the Chinese Government reserve the right to pull a movie from cinemas with no notice, meaning cinemagoers are in a greater rush to see the latest releases. Keeping these two points in mind and the fact that Pacific Rim is an event movie, it is unsurprising that the movie over-performed but the figures are far more noticeable and impressive due to the film's lacklustre performance in all other territories.

In order to gain a better understanding of Pacific Rim's box-office performance and audience reception, it is necessary to subtract China's elevated grosses from the global tally, which are inconsistent with all other markets. In order to do this, simply imagine that the Chinese Government had refused to release Pacific Rim in their country.

The international gross would now be roughly $195 million and when combined with the $100 million domestic gross, a final worldwide tally slightly north of $300 million would be generous. This would mean that Pacific Rim would be deemed a box-office disaster on a similar scale to Battleship, John Carter and Prince of Persia.

Pacific Rim isn't a box-office success, it's a disaster that was entirely saved by the Chinese audiences' extraordinary appetite for Western Cinema, which was combined with a limited time-frame in which to see it and a distinct lack of genre competition. Forbes Contributor, Scott Mendelson, acknowledges this (to an extent) though he fails to fully attribute the success to the Chinese market, instead he claims the success was more evenly shared in a similar vain to the other films in his discussion - 

"But thanks to China and other receptive overseas markets, Guillermo del Toro doesn’t have a big budget black mark on his resume, which should make it easier to get his next film greenlit."

Now there's talk of a sequel, thanks to Pacific Rim's international (China) grosses and there's even the possibility of a franchise, despite the sci-fi actioner failing to financially justify such bold plans. It will be essential for the movie to produce extremely strong Home Entertainment numbers. 

However, here lies potentially an even more problematic scenario: What happens when a film's most profitable market is also the most volatile?

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