An Australian version of the “Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” poster. It sold for $18.99 in 2007.
In 2005, Jane and Robert Kahn and their daughter Anna invited Linda and me to join them during their vacation in Florence, Italy. It was a time in our lives when the lure of a trip abroad faced little competition from grandchildren.
Linda and I arrived in Florence on Thursday, May 12. We stayed at the Viva Hotel Pitti Palace, a block away from the south end of the Ponte Vecchio. We toured the churches, gardens and museums of Florence and made day trips to Bologna and San Gimignano. I have yet to find a Bolognese sauce that matched the one I enjoyed in Bologna.
During our travels among the Florentine streets, I saw numerous posters for the Italian premiere of “Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” The movie premiered in the United States on Thursday, May 19. The Italian premier occurred a week to 10 days later.
In previous trips to Europe, I observed that American movies opened anywhere from a week to several months following their American premiere. The delayed Italian premiere “of Star Wars: Episode III” came as no surprise.
I visited several toy store outlets hoping to find Italian “Star Wars: Episode III” memorabilia, only to be frustrated in my search. My attempt to acquire one or two of the movie posters also failed.
The foreign box office for American films grew in financial importance in the 1990s. While I was unable to identify the first American-made film whose foreign box office income was higher than its American box office, I did find an article by Judith Miller entitled “Making Money Abroad, And Also a Few Enemies” that appeared in the Jan. 16, 1997, New York Times. The article noted that “Michael Collins,” a Warner Brothers film, grossed just under $10 million in the United States while realizing “$4.8 million in England and $5.9 million in Ireland, surpassing “Jurassic Park,” as the most popular film ever released there.” The English, Irish and Europeans’ love affair with American films dates back to the silent era.
In the 1980s and 1990s, movie licensing had surpassed television licensing as the principle generator of collectibles. While some licensed products were sold abroad, the quantity and variety in the American marketplace was triple to quadruple the licensed movie collectibles available abroad. The American secondary marketplace was the great mother lode for foreign collectors.
By the 21st century, there was a shift in premiere trends. American movies opened in foreign markets prior to their American premieres. In addition, the foreign movie market expanded beyond the United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe and Japan. China and Russia developed into major markets. An article in the Feb. 17, 2011 issue of the Los Angeles edition of The Economist entitled “Hollywood Goes Global: Bigger Abroad” stated: “In 2007 American films made almost twice as much at the Russian box office as domestic films—8.3 billion rubles ($325m) compared with 4.5 billion. Last year the imported stuff made some 16.4 billion rubles: more than five times as much as the home-grown product, estimates Movie Research, a Moscow outfit.” How instrumental were American movies and music in the fall of the Iron Curtain?
This is an original double-sided “Michael Collins” movie poster. It is a first print of “Michael Collins” holding a rifle in air in front of the Irish flag. It was later recalled in favor of a more peaceful version. It sold on eBay for $20 in 2011.
Information from “Never Mind ‘The Avengers’: Overseas Markets are Hollywood’s Box-Office Superheroes” on The Wrap website notes that while “Ice Age: Continental Drift” brought in $143.7 million in North America, its foreign box office was $620.5 million. “Men In Black 3” and “The Amazing Spider-Man’s” foreign gross more than doubled the American box office gross. “From 2007 to 2011, the box office in Europe, the Middle East and Africa underwent a 24 percent increase, a 38 percent jump in Asia Pacific, and an 86 percent leap in Latin America, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. In 2011, the total international box office was up 35 percent in U.S. dollars from five years ago. In the U.S. and Canada, however, the box office over the same period rose a mere 6 percent.” No wonder American film producers are premiering their pictures overseas first.
There are three basic arguments for releasing films abroad before America. First, it combats piracy, especially in China and India. Individuals prefer to see the movies on a theater’s big screen as opposed to a grainy copy on a television. Second, a successful foreign launch adds hype to the American release. Realizing that others have seen the movie, American viewers are rushing to theaters during the first week of release rather than waiting. Finally, since the films make more money abroad, the studios reach profit status quicker.
What does this mean for movie collectibles? Expect to see an increased collecting interest in foreign movie posters by American collectors. Collectors place a value premium on “first.” First no longer means the American poster. If the film did not open simultaneously around the world, the poster collector is now tasked with identifying the location where the movie did open and the poster style associated with it.
How important is this? At the moment, the importance is limited. However, every movie poster was new once. Time creates scarcity and demand. Given the limited access of American collectors to foreign posters, scarcity begins almost immediately. Chances of a speculative secondary market for a movie’s first poster in the initial five to 10 years of its release are high.
While the amount of movie licensing is decreasing in the United States, foreign manufacturers are not likely to ignore the merchandising opportunities associated with the high box office receipts, especially for movies that appeal to the juvenile and teenage marketplaces. In past, foreign-licensed collectibles have remained largely unknown to American collectors. Thanks to Internet auction sites, such as eBay, it is easier to track them but still difficult to assemble a checklist of what is available where.
Hollywood movies are one of the chief exporters of the American lifestyle. The global world is Americanized, a fact which continues to disturb ethnic purists in foreign countries. But, is America still the great mother lode of material for the foreign collector? The answer is no.
This is an original theatrical movie poster for “Ice Age 4, Continental Drift.” This original theatrical one sheet double-sided poster was intended for international cinema use and not available to public. It sold in 2012 for $27.95.
The globalization of commerce means that anyone anywhere in the world can order the same product. Fast food was America’s first global export. McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and their equivalents are everywhere. The Big Box stores, such as Walmart and including Toys ‘R Us, represent the next Americanization wave. It will not be last. The next wave will be Internet-driven. Think Amazon.com.
The success of American movies abroad is redefining Hollywood stardom. Jerry Lewis’s French fan base has been a long-running joke source. No one is laughing about Tom Cruise’s success in Asia, where his popularity is far above that in the United States.
Americans are accustomed to the American media determining for them who is and is not star material. In the 20th century, the American media designation meant international stardom. This is no longer true. As much as the world wants to be like America, local tastes still prevail. By 2030, American movie stars will divide into two basic categories—those who sell in the U.S. and those who sell in the international market. The difference is that world viewers will determine the latter list and not the American media.
Collecting is memory driven. When there are a third more individuals abroad with memories of seeing “Ice Age: Continental Drift” than in America, where will the market be in 2040 for “Ice Age: Continental Drift” collectibles? If this title is too esoteric, think “Iron Man 3.” The DC, Marvel and independent comic superheroes are current hot commodities. While American in origin in terms of concept and artwork, forgetting their fictional origins, these comic book characters are global, embraced by movie viewers and collectors around the world. Iron Man is as much a hero to a boy in Brazil as he is to a boy in China.
It will take a decade or two to understand fully how this will impact the secondary market value of movie collectibles. In the interim, be aware of the potential and keep an open mind.
Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site.
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