Well, Tiger has begun to drop off significantly. Which means now is the week when we can start comparing it with other overseas hits and see how good it really did, removed from all the hysteria of the “finally a big box office hit in 2017!” coverage.
In the US and the UK, it has dropped below $2,000 per screen. In Canada, below $4,000. Australia, very steep, down to $2,000 after last week’s $7,000. And screen count is going down as well.
Yash Raj is very good at this part, the slow easing out of theaters as interest wanes. So if screens are going down and per screen is going down at this rate, I predict another couple weeks of scattered showings, and then Yash Raj will pull it out of theaters entirely. Which means that the overseas profits are almost done. So we can start looking at how they compare with other overseas films.
Thanks to Bollywoodhungama (other sources have different lists, but I trust BH most), here is the list of top overseas Hindi films:
Dangal – USD 230.08 million
P.K. – USD 47.2 million
Dhoom 3 – USD 31.1 million
Bajrangi Bhaijaan – USD 29 million
Dilwale – USD 25.6 million
3 Idiots – USD 25.5 million
Sultan – USD 24.38 million
My Name Is Khan – USD 23.5 million
Tiger Zinda Hai – USD 18.64 million
Chennai Express – USD 17.4 million
The first thing that leaps out at me is, how many of them are Christmas releases!!!! Dangal, P.K., Dhoom 3, Dilwale, 3 Idiots, Tiger Zinda Hai. Next is, how many are Eid releases, Sultan, Bajrangi Bhaijaan. The only two to buck that trend are My Name is Khan (Valentine’s Day) and Chennai Express (Diwali).
(Dilwale was the only one to really lean into the Christmas idea, and even that was minimal. It’s not that they are Christmas-themed, it’s just that the release close to Dec. 25th to take advantage of a global day off work)
Eid and Christmas are really the major global holidays. All over the world, families are celebrating and offices are closed. If you are looking for a global hit, not just an India hit, that is where you want to aim.
Next thing that jumps out at me, that they are all Khan films. When you wonder why the industry is so Khan-focused, this is why. You can talk about Bajirao‘s impressive visuals, or Akshay’s solid hit record all you want, but if you want that sweet sweet overseas cash, you gotta have a Khan.
Among the Khans, Aamir is clearly taking the lead. Both in number of films on the list (4) and by dominating the top of the list. Not to mention also having the oldest film on the list, 3 Idiots.
He keeps the top of the list for longer too. Dangal just came out, but P.K. and Dhoom 3 both came out before Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Dilwale, and Sultan, and yet they are higher on the list. Bucking the chronological order trend.
(I don’t think PK was nearly as good as Aamir’s other films on this list, by the way. It is the only one of his that I would put in the “cheated a bit through release strategy” category. Still a good movie and all that, just shouldn’t be second on the list)
You’ll notice that most of this list is in chronological order. For two reasons. First, of course, inflation. If you remember from when I went through the historic list of top box office hits, once you allow for inflation, the Hindi film box office has been in a general decline since the 1950s. But if you stick your head in the sand and pretend inflation doesn’t exist, naturally the box office will always increase in synch with the slow changing value of money.
(Allowing for inflation, this is still the biggest box office hit of all time)
And second, the steady increase in penetration of the global market. As time moves on, Hindi films are on more and more screens globally, advertise more and more globally, and generally reach a larger and larger global audience.
So, let’s focus on the films that dramatically buck this chronological trend. Those would be 3 Idiots, PK, Sultan, My Name is Khan, Chennai Express and Tiger Zinda Hai. Let me show you what I mean:
In reverse chronological order, this list goes:
Tiger Zinda Hai (2017)
Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015)
Dhoom 3 (2013)
Chennai Express (2013)
My Name is Khan (2010)
3 Idiots (2009)
And in terms of financials, if we cluster the ones that are only a few million off from each other, it goes like this:
Dhoom 3-Bajrangi Bhaijaan-Dilwale-3 Idiots–Sultan–My Name is Khan
Tiger Zinda Hai–Chennai Express
The three that are dramatically out of order in a good way are P.K., 3 Idiots, and My Name is Khan. 3 Idiots was the start of this whole modern era of massive global box office. But notice, My Name is Khan came out the very next year and came within spitting distance of tying with it. And then it was another 3 years before Chennai Express came even close to their box office, followed by Dhoom 3 suddenly leaping far forward again. With another major leap a year later to PK. Followed by little cluster hovering around Dhoom 3 figures, Sultan and Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Dilwale. And then finally Dangal doing another massive massive leap forward.
So, the pattern as it stands, is that Aamir breaks dramatically into a new market. The rest of the industry runs to catch up for the next several years. And then Aamir dramatically breaks another barrier, and everyone plays catch-up again. With PK and Dangal both standing out as landmarks that were so far beyond what the rest of the industry was doing it took them a very long time to catch up.
Until 2016-2017. There are 2 films that strongly broke the pattern, one good and 2 bad. Dangal leaped far ahead again. Following the usual pattern, what should happen is that Aamir leaps ahead, and everyone else clusters behind him for a few years at the last benchmark before slowly reaching his level. But that is not what happened. Instead of leaping up to the new PK plateau, or at least close to it, Sultan and Tiger Zinda Hai have slid alllllllllllllllllll the way back to 2010 levels.
Chennai Express is another outlier, coming out in 2013 but being strikingly lower than 2009-2010 rates. However, it is also the lowest on the list, it used to be part of a little cluster down there, a lot of films from the same era struggling to reach up to the record breaker. That’s why 3 Idiots is so (justifiably) revered, it took years and years for anything to even come close to it in domestic box office, and in global box office only My Name is Khan was up there for years and years.
(My Name is Khan is a whole other article, about the start of the dramatic split between global and domestic figures. With My Name is Khan being one example, and Chennai Express being the opposite example)
Sultan and Tiger Zinda Hai though, that is a drastic backslide. Sultan was already going back to 2010/2009 records, and without the split screens excuse that Dilwale had (sharing international space with Bajirao). Sultan had a massive number of screens, and opened on Eid giving it a massive international holiday. And it still could not break out of the 2010 record.
And now there is Tiger Zinda Hai. Which is still in theaters globally and still making money. But like I said, it is beginning to die down now, which means it will probably make a few more million before ending. And that keeps it solidly down at the bottom of the list with Chennai Express. Chennai Express, which released on Diwale (not an international holiday) and on only 196 screens, versus Tiger Zinda Hai‘s 300 screens on Christmas week.
(Chennai Express also did much better business at home than abroad, another interesting moment of splitting the market. Again, for another article)
Putting it simply, the screen counts are going up but the profits are going down. Even opening weekend, which is most driven by screen count, has been dropping like crazy. Tiger, in opening weekend, did worse than Don. Don, a film from 11 years ago that competed with Jaan-E-Mann (another major release) for overseas screens, and released on Diwale, not an international holiday. And still got more people in to see it opening weekend than Tiger.
(I like Don, and it is a good solid movie. When it came out, I liked it but wasn’t hugely impressed. However, if you compare the quality and originality of it, the songs and the characters and the dialogue and the action scenes and everything else, with Tiger Zinda Hai, suddenly Tiger looks very tired and Don looks very good. You can see why people came for Don and stayed away from Tiger)
This all sounds very depressing, but it is only depressing if you are focusing on these major films. And expecting every film to be a record breaker. I’ll put it another way. Mughal-E-Azam‘s box office record stood for 15 years, until Sholay. Even 3 Idiots, it held the top for 3 years.
But now, everyone is very impatient. Instead of accepting that record breaking profits come with once a decade (or two decades) quality, producers are fudging the numbers. Trying to make their somewhat average film break the record set by an all time classic. And meanwhile, the actual interesting high quality films, once that won’t break records but will be enjoyable watches, can’t even find screens because the producers are taking them all in order to cheat their way to the top for their mediocre big star film. This is why A Gentleman was chased out of theaters, why Bareilly Ki Barfi held on for a long time but on only a few screens, even Shubh Mangal Saavdhan suffered opening opposite Baadshaho.
(Actually, Baadshaho is to blame for both A Gentleman and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. It came out the week after A Gentleman and chased it off screens before it could build word of mouth. And then cut into Shubh Mangal‘s time in the sun, it wasn’t until the second week when Baadshaho had scurried out of theaters that Shubh Mangal started getting the appreciation it deserved)
Dilwale should not be beating 3 Idiots. It has a big name star, it had an exhaustive promotional campaign, it released Christmas week, and it took as many screens internationally as it could manage. And because of all of that, it was able to edge out the far superior film on the list of record breakers. While the distributors took a loss.
Tiger Zinda Hai, meanwhile, looks like the end limit of this strategy. It was given every possible advantage, the good release date, the maximum number of screens, a budget above the Yash Raj limit, massive PR campaign, big star cast, and yet it still cannot break 3 Idiots which had many fewer advantages, but was a movie that people just really really wanted to see.
(Wouldn’t you want to see this movie? Much more than whatever “Swag Se Swaget” was promising us?)
Yash Raj could have cut the budget back down for Tiger, cut down the PR, thrown less money at Salman, and released on far fewer screens, and made the same amount over all and a much bigger profit. But they didn’t do that, because the wanted the “record breaker”. They wanted to be in this top ten club.
Now, let’s look at Ittefaq. Almost no promotion money spent, no interviews or PR blitz. No big name stars. No expensive elaborate song sequences. Only a handful of sets and costumes. And only 67 theaters in the US. All of which means very low initial expense. And a box office result of $3,500 per screen. A massive promotion, a bigger star, a fancy song, you could have easily driven that up to $4,000 per screen. Do that, and then throw even more money at it and toss it on 4 times as many screens, and you could force it up into the top 20 all time global box office. But you wouldn’t be making a profit any more. You would just have a record to brag about.
It’s the “horse race” mentality, that’s the problem. Everyone is looking at “beating” the others, not at being the best they can be for themselves. And the media is playing into that. The focus is always on these record breakers. And on breaking the record, rather than WHY it broke the record.
I remember when 3 Idiots came out. That was a very big deal. And people said “This is a wonderful amazing original movie with a great message that speaks to real concerns. And also, it broke box office records. We should make more wonderful amazing original movies with great messages that speak to real concerns.”
(Very different from the love songs or item numbers that we are used to)
But in the years since, while you have films like Dangal or Bajrangi Bhaijaan on this list, films which legitimately deserve to be there based on quality alone, you also have Sultan. Which is only there because the producers arranged to have it there. The focus is less on making a high quality film and assuming the box office will follow, then on arranging the release so that the box office is guaranteed.
And this a BAD. From an artistic stand point, directors and actors are taking tons of money and cranking out an average product, knowing that the marketing campaign will save them. And also from a business stand point, because that marketing campaign costs a lot of money, which is cutting into your profit point.
And so I will continue to ignore these lists most of the time and focus on the per screen numbers. The per screen numbers, where the top of the list would be 3 Idiots, Dangal, Neerja, Bareilly Ki Barfi, and others like them. A much more interesting assortment, which succeeded based on quality and originality, not mere manipulation of the box office.