TOKYO - Early estimates indicate a steep drop-off in box office revenue outside the U.S. immediately following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The country is one of Hollywood's biggest international markets, although industry analysts say the disaster's long-term financial impact on movie studios should be limited.
Box office revenue in Japan plunged about 41 percent last weekend, compared with the prior weekend, according to data from Rentrak Corp. In the U.S., the decline over the same time period was about 3 percent. Japan is a major market for Hollywood, which looks to international ticket sales to help recoup the costs of producing films. U.S. box office revenue was about $10.6 billion in 2010, while international box office revenue was $17.6 billion.
"Japan is a vitally important part of the international box office," said Paul Gergarabedian, president of the box-office division of the tracking service Hollywood.com. "No question about it that the impact has already been felt."
Among the top films playing on big screens in Japan last weekend were The Walt Disney Co.'s 'Tangled,' News Corp.'s Twentieth Century Fox's 'Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' and the Oscar best-picture winner from The Weinstein Co., 'The King's Speech.' Fox spokesman Chris Petrikin said 'Narnia' had been doing well in Japan, but that ticket sales dropped off 66 percent last weekend, compared with the prior weekend.
According to Rentrak data, Japan box office revenue for 'The King's Speech' sank 72 percent. It was the first weekend for 'Tangled,' which brought in $1.7 million. But the financial impact should be manageable for Hollywood studios, said Tuna Amobi, a media and entertainment analyst for Standard & Poor's Equity Research. He noted there is a relatively small number of films now playing in Japan, many of which have already opened in other markets.
"I don't think Japan as one country is likely to make or break any one studio," he said. Amobi said international movie ticket sales plunged 60 percent last weekend from a year earlier, although there were likely other factors besides the disaster in Japan that contributed to decline.
After the earthquake and tsunami, studios have adjusted their plans. Warner Entertainment Japan Inc. said theaters will stop showing Clint Eastwood's movie 'Hereafter,' which has scenes depicting the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Sony Pictures is delaying the release in Japan of 'Battle: Los Angeles,' which is about an alien invasion in Southern California. A spokesman for Disney did not comment on the performance of titles in the marketplace, but said the company's thoughts are with the people of Japan.