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What the pull of the foreign box office means for Hollywood


The new "Avatar" movie, this one subtitled "The Way Of Water," has made more than a billion and a half dollars so far. And about two-thirds of that money is coming from movie theaters overseas. Lots of blockbusters do big business in other countries. Last year, "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" each brought in half of their ticket sales outside the U.S. and Canada. What does the pull of the foreign box office mean for Hollywood? Nancy Tartaglione is international box office editor and senior contributor for deadline.com. She joins us now. Welcome to the program.

NANCY TARTAGLIONE: Hi, thanks for having me.

RASCOE: Are those the kind of movies that do better outside the U.S. - you know, these kind of very big, traditional blockbuster movies which, you know, either have action or fighting? Like, are those the type of movies that do well outside of the U.S.?

TARTAGLIONE: Sure. I mean, you have to remember also that it's a big, wide world out there. Certainly, action is big overseas. One thing that doesn't always translate internationally is comedy. It tends to work in, you know, the Anglo-Saxon markets like the U.K. or Australia, and then to a degree also in Germany.

RASCOE: What are the largest and most reliable markets overseas? I would imagine, you know, China is a huge market. But, like, what are the markets that they're really focused on?

TARTAGLIONE: I mean, China is huge, but it is unreliable because the government controls what movies get in. So that's kind of just like icing at this point. But otherwise, you're mostly talking about the mature European markets. Elsewhere, you're talking about Korea. Korea is a massive market for Hollywood. Mexico, Brazil - big markets that are typically reliable, I would say.

RASCOE: There is this issue of some high-profile movies being censored in other countries. You know, "Bohemian Rhapsody," for instance, had gay scenes removed in China. Are there concerns about making certain types of movies because they won't be allowed to be shown overseas?

TARTAGLIONE: I mean, censorship has been around for a really long time. The issue with China - perhaps at a certain point when it was really booming, there were maybe more considerations for what would and wouldn't fly there. I think there's less of an intentional - I don't like the term kowtowing, but intentionally only targeting that. There is also censorship in markets in the Middle East. You know, there are just certain countries where you have to remove all scenes of intimacy. It doesn't matter if it's heterosexual or homosexual, whatever it is. In the past year, I believe Disney just sort of knew that they would have censorship issues in Saudi Arabia, so didn't even submit "Strange World" to the market.

RASCOE: I mean, you know, sometimes you do hear this complaint from people that it's only movies like "Fast And Furious" or Marvel movies that are getting made because they have to do all this overseas and make money. That's why these little, you know, cute little dramas can't get made anymore.

TARTAGLIONE: I mean, look, you know, at the end of the day, Hollywood is an industry. It's a business. Those kinds of tentpoles, those blockbusters there, they're highly important. But you can't just bounce from tentpole to tentpole. Markets do need - this isn't meant to sound pejorative, but filler product, that kind of middle of the road product. I think it's a legitimate concern. I think everybody would like for those movies to keep being made. It's very important to have diversity - you know, different types of movies. It's important to have variety. It's important to have something for everyone. These are ongoing conversations.

RASCOE: That's Nancy Tartaglione of deadline.com. Thank you so much for joining us.

TARTAGLIONE: Thank you. Thanks again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.