Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” was the first major movie to be released in theaters after the pandemic started. The sci-fi film made just under $60 million domestically – but earned about six times that abroad. (Here’s a look at the highest-grossing movie every year since 1975.)
Coronavirus restrictions were blamed at least in part for the movie’s poor showing at the box office, at least in the U.S. But it was not the first – or the last – example of a major Hollywood production proving to be more popular among moviegoers abroad than at home.
To assemble a list of Hollywood films that made all their money (or most of it) overseas, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on domestic and international box office from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services. English-language film productions that grossed at least $250 million internationally were ranked based on international box office as a percentage of total global box office. Box office data was adjusted for inflation using historical ticket price data from the National Association of Theatre Owners. Audience scores from IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon, and critics’ Tomatometer scores from Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, are current as of June 2022.
It’s not easy to tell why some movies appear to find bigger audiences in other countries. Installments of multi-film franchises – like James Bond, Fast & Furious, and Transformers – appear frequently on this list, perhaps because early films in the series created a fan base that later ones benefitted from. (Domestically, these are the James Bond movies that did best at the box office.)
A few of the movies on the list may also benefit from their setting – for instance, “The Great Wall” and “The Last Samurai,” both of which feature Hollywood stars but are set in China and Japan, respectively, which may have contributed to their popularity in Asian countries.
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