If you think launching a $250 million special effects movie like Battleship into international waters more than a month before opening in the U.S. takes a big set of balls, you’re right: specifically, a soccer ball, a cricket ball, and a rugby ball.
Recent media coverage has focused on the fact that the movie is actually doing well in diverse territories like Australia, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Korea. But the obvious, unasked question is: Why? Why is Universal opening this movie all over the world this weekend but waiting until mid–May in the U.S.? Usually, blockbusters seek to open simultaneously around the world, to avoid spoilers and piracy, or open in the U.S. first, then venture overseas, buzz in tow.
The reasons, it turns out are spherical and leathery, but not alien: In Europe and Oceania, soccer, cricket, and rubgy aren’t sports — they’re religions. And we are entering the high holidays period this summer: The European Championship Cup, which runs from June 8 to July 1, will captivate most of western Europe during that time. That competition is quickly followed by cricket’s Australia Tour of England and Ireland, which runs from June 23 to July 10. They’re followed by the summer Olympics, set in London, which run July 27 through August 12. And then comes the Four Nations Rugby Championship, which will sop up the gaze of not just Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, and Argentinians, whose teams are competing from August 18 to October 6, but also preoccupy much of the U.K. as well.
Universal should be praised for skillfully opening a very jingoistic, pro–USA movie well before Europeans start swinging their vuvuzelas (vuvuzelae?) around and braying for their neighbor’s blood while chanting their national anthems. (The film has opened at No. 1 in every foreign territory thus far, save France.)
More, rival studio execs say there’s another advantage to Battleship’s surprising opening in 26 territories this weekend: It also gives Marvel’s forthcoming Avengers a wide berth; that Spandex summer must-see opens worldwide on May 4.
We can have a separate conversation about the plausibility of a movie about aliens with sufficient technology to travel light-years across the universe only to suffer defeat via World War II artifacts, but what’s inarguable is that Universal is truly living up to its name and taking into account the vagaries of a global marketplace. Contrary to what they sing at Disneyland, it’s not a small world after all. It’s a very, very, big and complicated one.