Domestic vs Foreign Box Office: United States Losing Its Grip on the Film Industry

The United States seems to be losing its spot as the top movie going country. Increasingly often, foreign countries have been accounting for more and more of a film’s total gross. Now that we’re over halfway through 2017, I have taken a look at the year’s fifteen top grossing films, and realized a large percentage of them are making a considerable more amount of money in the foreign markets.

Film Domestic Gross Foreign Gross
Beauty and the Beast $504 million $758.2 million
The Fate of the Furious $225.8 million $1.013 billion
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 $387.3 million $492.9 million
Wonder Woman $389 million $390.6 million
Pirates of the Caribbean 5 $170.6 million $596.7 million
Despicable Me 3 $213.6 million $518.9 million
Logan $226.3 million $389.9 million
Spiderman: Homecoming $251.9 million $320 million
Kong: Skull Island $161.1 million $398.1 million
Transformers 5 $127.6 million $420.2 million
The Boss Baby $174.5 million $321.2 million
The Mummy $79.4 million $313.1 million
50 Shades Darker $114.4 million $264.4 million
Your Name $5 million $349.5 million
xXx: the Return of Xander Cage $44.9 million $301.2 million


For a few years, people have been noticing this trend and wondering why it is the case. Some have speculated it could be that Americans are craving something more original. If you look at the chart, eight of the top fifteen grossing films are direct sequels (Fast and Furious 8, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Pirates 5, Despicable Me 3, Logan, Transformers 5, 50 Shades Darker, and xXx: the Return of Xander Cage), while another four are either remakes or reiterations of previous movies (Beauty and the Beast, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Kong: Skull Island). The only original films on the list are Wonder Woman, the Boss Baby, and Your Name.

Perhaps we, as a nation, are becoming bored with the same reiteration of characters. How many times do we need to see Vin Diesel driving around? Or Johnny Depp doing the same drunken pirates routine? Or cars transforming into crime fighting robots? For the most part, all of these movies have become predictable. While, of course, these films have their fan bases, they seem to be slowly dying out.

Another possible reason for this could be that Americans may be over their obsession with cinema. With ticket prices exponentially rising, as well as pricey concession snacks, going to the movies is no longer a cheap way to spend an evening. We now have cheaper, arguably better alternatives, with streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. For roughly the price of a movie ticket, one could pay for a month’s worth of movies to stream through Netflix. With the digital market expanding, the future of moviegoing could change

Over the past few years, review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes has crossed over to the mainstream consciousness. A film’s “‘tomatometer” score is prominently displayed on sites like Fandango, and often referenced in TV spots and other advertisements (do you remember everyone talking about how Get Out had a 100% of Rotten Tomatoes back in February?). Many don’t realize how Rotten Tomatoes gets these scores. The site compiles all critics ratings of any given film on a pass/fail basis. If the critic gives the film a rating of 60% or higher, their review is counted as “fresh.” Comparably, if they rate it a 59% or lower, it counts as “rotten.” They compile all of the rottens vs fresh ratings, and that percentage, is the film’s “tomatometer.” That is to say that if every critic scores a movie a 65%, the film would be considered “fresh” even though a 6.5 isn’t necessarily great. Casual moviegoers misinterpreting the Rotten Tomatoes
score can also be a cause of the decrease in domestic totals.

The competition has become more aggressive. If you look at this year’s release schedule, there’s a big movie opening almost every weekend. With so many movies being released, of course some are going to slip through the cracks of US consciousness. This is not a new phenomenon; it’s slowly been happening for years. Foreign markets have always been especially interested in US released blockbusters. Over the past decade, the amount of movies making over half of its money in the domestic markets has dwindled. Now, most of the movies are making closer to 60% of their gross, or higher, in foreign markets.

Film Domestic Gross Foreign Gross
Beauty and the Beast 39.90% 60.10%
The Fate of the Furious 18.20% 81.80%
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 45% 55%
Wonder Woman 49.90% 50.10%
Pirates of the Caribbean 5 22.20% 77.80%
Despicable Me 3 29.20% 70.80%
Logan 36.70% 63.30%
Spiderman: Homecoming 44% 56%
Kong: Skull Island 29.70% 70.30%
Transformers 5 23.30% 76.70%
The Boss Baby 35.20% 64.80%
The Mummy 20.20% 79.80%
50 Shades Darker 30.20% 69.80%
Your Name 1.40% 98.60%
xXx: the Return of Xander Cage 13% 87%


Of course, only time will tell what exactly the result of this will be. However, much speculation has arisen over the possibility of films being made and marketed toward foreign audiences, rather than audience.

The United States moviegoing public will only continue to lose its say in what movies become franchises and which ones simply die out. Last summer’s Warcraft, while tanking at the US box office (making only $47.4 million), managed to flourish in foreign markets (pulling in $386.3 million). Each Transformers movie, following the second installment, has made less and less in the US, yet internationally, their grosses increase. While Americans may be over, or at least getting over, the Transformers franchise, the global community is still very much rooting for its success, so we can most likely expect a sixth reintegration of Optimus Prime.

In the near future, more films may be made and marketed towards an Eastern audience. This could be the call to arms for diversity Hollywood so desperately needs. Perhaps more movies will start featuring international casts, in an attempt to appeal to multiple markets (a recent example would be Rogue One’s diverse cast). Maybe this whole debacle will result in a more diverse, inclusive breed of films. Until then, all we can do is actively chose to spend our money on the best films we can, and wait and see.

Montclair State | New Jersey

Robert O'Connor

Robert O'Connor is a journalism student with a minor in film, currently studying at Montclair State University. He has combined his passions for writing and film to present different pieces, relating to all aspects of cinema. Some of Robert's favorite movies include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, There Will Be Blood, A Clockwork Orange, and the Lobster.