'Evil’ at the foreign box office

by Victor Rodriguez / Columnist • October 25, 2012

The Resident Evil franchise is back. The Umbrella Corporation has yet to pay for the spread of the virus that has caused a zombie apocalypse and put the end of the world in play. The new movie, Resident Evil: Retribution’s release date was announced over a month ago, and things are looking good for Constantin Film, the production company that acquired the rights to the movies since the release of the first movie. The series has improved, both thematically and financially, and is the most recent proof of the importance that foreign box offices hold in Hollywood. Critiques have not been the friendliest, but it is definitely among the best adaptations that are out there.

The latest box office reports indicate that the domestic cume, or cumulative audience measuring the total number that unique customers have accrued for Resident Evil: Retribution is of $39 million. The foreign cume is $137 million, making the worldwide accumulation nearly $177 million. The question that these figures raise is, would Resident Evil: Retribution have been produced if it wasn’t for the powerful international market proceedings? The generated income of the franchise, five movies, has increased with the release of each movie. Resident Evil (2002) grossed over $66 million worldwide, RE: Apocalypse (2004) had the figure of $81 million. These first two installments had a greater income in the local audience than in the international one. However things have changed since the release of Resident Evil: Extinction in 2007, grossing over $50 million at home and $95 million overseas, almost doubling the picture’s proceedings only from other countries’ shores. In 2010, RE: Afterlife made figures that exceeded expectations overseas. While its national income was $60 million, it made almost four times that overseas, close to $235 million.

According to Chris Morris, a writer for Variety, the series’ success is due to two things: consistency and change. Consistency is pretty clear in the series, since Milla Jovovich has always been the main protagonist of the stories, while director Paul W.S. Anderson (Jovovich’s husband) has also played an active role in the franchise, directing installments one, four, and five. Change, interestingly, has been thematic in every movie. Morris explains that the first movie is a chamber horror film, and the second an action film, the third contains aspects of a road movie, and the fourth a siege picture. To finalize, the fifth film is the post-apocalyptic epic.

Another major contribution to the series’ success is that it has been faithful to its source material. Anderson said in an interview, “I regard [video games] as just as valid as books or plays in terms of an intellectual property.” And while the main character, Alice, played by Jovovich, does not appear in the video games, during her journeys she encounters numerous characters who do, and they all have looks and mannerisms that are consistent with the video game. Alice’s character has allowed the director to avoid preconceived notions of what the movie should be, escaping the possibility of disappointing players by creating a new story based off of the Capcom video games.

To be fair, with all these details in mind, this franchise has been managed very successfully from start to finish. To create a new character might have been what saved the video game adaptation from being similar to the case of Tomb Raider, which couldn’t get past the second film despite having Angelina Jolie at the helm. Commercially speaking, Resident Evil has been genius, and although it is difficult to argue or agree that video games are in the same creative sphere as literature or theater, in this case, it worked. 

Cases where the outside gross is substantially higher than the domestic in the box office include: The Expendables 2, Ice Age: Continental Drift, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. The worldwide revenue of these were double, or more, in comparison to the American returns. For the studios, this means that the international audience is always something to keep in mind when analyzing how much a movie can make. It’s hard to believe, but American films are often dependent on the foreign market.