Paramount's 'Noah' To Go 3D, But Not In America

Feb 6 2014, 3:44pm CST | by

Well, this is one solution. It’s no secret that domestic audiences are generally disinterested in 3D conversions, give or take special occasions such as Gravity. And it’s also no secret that 3D conversions can sometimes mean the difference between a box office disappointment and a box office hit in overseas markets. Paramount Pictures has come upon what arguably should have been the obvious solution. On March 28th, 2014 they will release the Russell Crowe/Jennifer Connelly biblical epic Noah in America and the UK in traditional 2D. But they are releasing the Darren Aronofsky picture in 65 overseas markets in 3D, including IMAX 3D in 32 of those markets.

The picture has already cost $125 million to produce, and Paramount is all-too-willing to spend another $10m to pay for said conversion. And really this is a no brainer. 3D may be waning a bit in America (with many theaters splitting 2D and 3D showings of the same movie on a single screen), but it’s still a massive profit center in overseas markets. As you all remember, Paramount delayed G.I. Joe: Retribution nearly a full year purely to convert the film to 3D. The result was a moderate improvement in worldwide box office ($375m vs. $300m) even though the 3D-converted film made less domestically ($122m vs. $150m) than the 2D Rise of Cobra. And while they presumably wouldn’t have been blockbusters regardless, The Lone Ranger and After Earth surely did harm to themselves on the international market by going out strictly 2D.

Via the arbitrary price bump, the fact that 3D films get better theaters overseas, and the fact that some films play overseas only in 3D, or the fact that foreign audiences may not have turned the page on 3D quite yet, the 3D conversion remains a potent tool in the quest for overseas dominance. As such, Paramount’s decision to go 3D for foreign distribution is somewhat brilliant. They don’t have to face the inevitable complaints from film critics about what will surely be a lightning-fast conversion, and they can place Noah in the same playing field as the likes of Pacific Rim and The Life Of Pi. That Fox grosser is surely the template Paramount is looking at. The Ang Lee fable earned $125 million domestic, a terrific sum for a mediation on faith with long stretches of silence. But it pulled in a stunning $484m overseas, for a $609m worldwide cume.

Paramount’s Noah is arguably a genuinely risky project, as it has to balance the line between appealing to general moviegoers and not angering the overtly religious who can poison the word-of-mouth pool among the religiously-inclined infrequent moviegoers that showed up for The Passion of the Christ ten years ago (no, I’m not saying this will come anywhere near that film’s $371m domestic gross). The film is a $125m epic starring a questionable box office draw (Russell Crowe) and “names” that nonetheless don’t equal box office (Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, and Emma Watson) that isn’t based on a comic book or popular young-adult novel. From a financial standpoint, it is almost irresponsible not to position such a film in the best possible fashion to make a killing overseas.

This is a perfect “have your cake and eat it too” scenario. Yes, audiences in those 65 markets who don’t like 3D get screwed, but that’s been how it goes for the last few years anyway. So here’s the fun question: Does Paramount’s decision not to convert Noah to 3D in America mean that they have basically written off the film’s box office potential in domestic theaters, to the point where they know that the big bucks are coming from markets like Russia and South America? Every year we get closer and closer to the point where America is just another territory, where even seemingly American films seem tailor-made to succeed outside of our shores.

Is Paramount doing American (and British, French, and Australian) audiences a favor, or are they implying those seemingly big markets don’t matter as much as the likes of Russia (and possibly China)? To be fair, they may be insulting Russians and the like by saying that domestic markets can appreciate story and character while other overseas audiences just want the big wave. But I digress. We’ve seen smaller genre entries (A Good Day To Die HardHansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) which didn’t exactly break out in America but more-than-made-up for it overseas. And we’ve seen would-be blockbusters (Pacific RimVoyage of the Dawn Treader) that somewhat underwhelmed in America but blew up overseas.

What we haven’t seen is a big-scale blockbuster that bombed in America but killed overseas. No American film that has failed to top $100 million domestic has ever topped $400m worldwide. I’m not saying that Noah will flop in America or that it will score overseas. All respective combinations are possible. At least as much as releasing major tent poles overseas weeks before domestic distribution (how is Robocop, my Taiwanese readers?) or sticking Chinese story and character elements into the likes of Iron Man 3 and (allegedly) Transformers: Age Of Extinction, this feels like both a brilliant compromise regarding the whole 2D/3D debate and another acknowledgement that American audiences aren’t remotely as important as they were even five years ago.

This may not mean anything in the long run. A 3D conversion for overseas distribution is still the smart financial play for Paramount and for Noah. And, for the record, there is nothing quantitatively wrong with America perhaps no longer being an exceptionalist movie going territory. But we’ll see if it’s a sign of things to come. Your turn to sign off. What do you think of the last minute 3D conversion?  Which version would you see if you had a choice?

Source: Forbes Business


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