This story first appeared in the May 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
China might be grabbing all of the headlines, but Hollywood already has embarked on a quest to mine a new set of emerging markets concentrated in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South America, where box office is expanding quickly.
Case in point: Iron Man 3. In 2008, Iron Man opened to $1.4 million in Malaysia and earned $3.5 million total. In April, Iron Man 3 shattered records throughout Southeast Asia, scoring the biggest opening weekend to date in a slew of countries. Malaysia alone took in $10.5 million through the film's first 10 days. Southeast Asian territories rank No. 11 through No. 20 on the list of Iron Man 3's top-grossing markets. "These markets are clearly leading the way," says Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis.
A booming population, along with a burst of new theaters, is driving the growth. Indonesia, the world's fourth-most-populous country, has 251 million people, according to the CIA's The World Factbook (the U.S. has 317 million). Vietnam, the 14th-most-populous nation with 92 million, is attracting a rush of theater construction. Focus Features International signed its first deal with a Vietnamese distributor for Cloud Atlas. And Stuart Ford's financing and foreign sales outfit IM Global and parent company Reliance have launched Apsara Distribution, the only multiterritory buyer in Southeast Asia, covering Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia.
Piracy remains rampant in Southeast Asia, but Ford says there's also a growing appetite for the cinematic experience. "The surge in screens across the whole region is a big factor for us," he says, adding that Apsara will open a Beijing office in the summer. FilmNation's Glen Basner says he's also seeing increased success in Southeast Asia, notably with action films like Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Looper.
The Middle East -- where 50 percent of the population is under 25 -- is equally hungry for action fare. In the United Arab Emirates, Paramount's sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation has done more than twice the business the first film did in 2009 ($3.3 million vs. $1.4 million). Censorship remains a thorny issue, though: The Middle East was the only region that wouldn't accept Focus International's poster for One Day, the Anne Hathaway-Jim Sturgess romantic drama, because it showed their characters kissing. The UAE is the area's most progressive country, according to Basner. Large-format exhibitor Imax opened a theater in Dubai in 2012 and is considering extending its footprint to Oman (not part of the UAE). Some studios are even contemplating a license agreement with the 14-screen multiplex in Erbil, in northern Iraq, that is set to open later in May.
In South America, 3D family films are the rage. DreamWorks Animation's The Croods did notable business in Colombia and Chile, where a burgeoning middle class is driving moviegoing. The 3D toon has taken in $6.5 million in the former and $4.5 million in the latter. In 2005, by contrast, DWA's Madagascar topped out at $2.9 million and $2.2 million, respectively, in those territories. Says Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Jim Gianopulos: "That's the beauty of having a big, wonderful world out there. Countries where theater construction has been delayed will have incredible potential in the years to come."
From 2008 to 2012, ticket sales jumped in countries around the globe.
South Africa, 58%