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March 15, 2013

This post was updated on March 20, 2014. It’s so much better now.

It was also featured in the Washington Post “40 Charts that Explain the World” (#38 on the list)

Here is an interesting look at worldwide box-office grosses by territory over the past 12 years. A few interesting trends emerge:

International Box Office Trends 2002-2013

Notice the steady decline in English speaking territories and the US in particular, as well as the more recent decline in the Western European market share. Compare that to the growth in Asian markets (despite a crash in Japan’s market share) and China in particular. Eastern Europe is also an awakening territory, as is Latin America (led by Brazil), which more than doubled its share over the past decade. Not in this chart, but worth mentioning: the Middle East is also starting to show signs of substantial box-office presence.

One explanation for these trends is saturation of the developed film markets. Another is the general rapid economic growth of the developing markets. A third theory is internet penetration rates across the world, which make marketing much easier. We can conduct that debate sometime, but the bottom line is that with the US market shifting more and more towards massive tent-pole studio productions, the best chance for indie films to survive is by targeting international markets.

The large-budgeted monsters are hogging an increasing portion of the 150-200 annual nationwide release slots in the US. But the growing international territories mentioned above still have demand for Cinematic entertainment with only partial fulfillment. They have not yet been swamped by Iron Man and his pals. Just like in high-tech, this is where the small players’ agility can finally triumph over the sluggish giants. The blockbusters are starting to discover these markets, which is what these graphs show – but there is still plenty of meat to go around, if the small players move quickly.

This theory has many caveats, of course: do developing markets even want American movies that are not blockbusters? Can a movie succeed in foreign markets without relying on buzz of success in the US (check out this post on that matter)? Can small production companies deal with the blood-red legal waters of distribution in some of these markets? I believe the answers to these and other questions are yes. But I’m always an optimist when it comes to entrepreneurship. What do you think?

How was this done?

The top 100 domestic grossers of each year were tracked (1,200 films total) for 2002-2013 and the box office grosses for each country available on was extracted using a python script and grouped into territories.

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