As an American, I enjoy watching movies based on the US and its military, and I want to know if these movies are popular outside of the US.

I'm talking about movies of various genres that are based on the US government or war:

  • White House Down
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Patton
  • Olympus Has Fallen
  • Jarhead
  • Black Hawk Down
  • The Patriot
  • We Were Soldiers

More specifically, does this kind of movie commonly profit outside of the US?

  • I've tentatively tagged it box-office. I'm not entirely sure how easy it is to simply and factually answer this - I mean we could probably find the rest-of-the-world box office for the movies mentioned here, and perhaps relate them to the domestic box-office in the USA, and compare to other movies or genres. Its potentially interesting, but would the results representative of a genre or just of these movies?
    – iandotkelly
    Jun 24, 2014 at 4:48
  • How do you mean to count "profit outside the US"? Once the thing is made the production costs are sunk. So if a movie screens for any length of time in a foreign market, that's probably because it's making a profit compared with the local cost of marketing and screening it. It needn't be all that popular to make a profit on a modest number of screens. But if by "profit outside the US" you mean, "the overseas receipts exceed the entire cost of production", then I suspect even successful movies often don't profit. Jun 24, 2014 at 20:39

9 Answers 9


The site Box Office Mojo is a good resource. It gives domestic and foreign grosses.

For instance, Saving Private Ryan grossed more abroad ($265,300,000) than here in the States ($216,540,909). The same is true with White House Down which grossed $73,103,784 in the US and $132,262,953 in foreign territories. A sixty million dollar difference is a significant amount and rather telling that like most other American movies, the military ones do just fine.

After all, I don't have to be from Japan to appreciate Seven Samurai or The Hidden Fortress.

EDIT : Speaking of Japan, the movie Pearl Harbor did rather well over there, despite its delicate subject matter. In the marketing the love story was played-up, as opposed to the bombing, and it was a surprising box-office score for Disney. That says a lot about American "military" movies. This link also seems to substantiate the claim.

  • 1
    It would be interesting to compare this with the domestic/abroad revenue ratio of non-military movies.
    – Philipp
    Jun 24, 2014 at 9:34
  • 5
    Its worth noting that the rest of the world is vastly larger than the US, so this still suggests that Saving Private Ryan etc were far more popular within the US than in the rest of the world Jun 24, 2014 at 10:01
  • 2
    Yeah, due to the differences in the sizes of the audience these sorts of figures only make sense in comparison to other films. That site actually has proportion that was domestic vs international which is a much easier figure to compare. SPR was 45% domestic, WHD was 36% domestic. Captain america 2 was 36% domestic and Ted was 39.8% domestic. What this shows is that SPR was less well received outside of the US than the others which were all around a similar level. You'd have to look at a lot mroe to make this statistically significant though.
    – Chris
    Jun 24, 2014 at 11:23
  • 2
    @Oliver_C, you seem to assume that all these populations outside the US would be equally inclined to go to the cinema as often as people in the US, which is likely not the case (at least not uniformly across Europe and Asia). You're also not taking into consideration the local market: country of origin of the movie (as opposed to theme) and the fact that the European market would generally have more US movies than the other way around. Since the question is about comparing theme, you'd at least want to normalise the number of entries by changing only that factor when possible.
    – Bruno
    Jun 24, 2014 at 17:25
  • 2
    @Bruno - You are making my point. There are also other factors one has to considers, e.g. number of theaters, ticket price, currency conversion, release date, ... - The point is, simply looking at the box office numbers is not enough to draw the conclusion that military movies are as popular outside the US as within.
    – Oliver_C
    Jun 24, 2014 at 17:37

Short answer: yes, provided you don't offend anyone. Longer answer: yes and/or no, depending on how you look at it.

Firstly, I'm a little surprised that no one has mentioned the language barrier with respect to international market size. The US is about 60% of the English-speaking world (by native speaker count), so it's a little surprising that international sales are as strong as they are compared to domestic sales - it seems 40% domestic to 60% international is becoming the trend. Until relatively recently a US film could expect roughly three equal amounts from domestic box office, foreign box office, and other sources (DVD, cable, etc).

Secondly, there are a couple of problems with the question. The first is the word "generally". You have several good answers with numbers comparing US vs. worldwide sales, but these are all fairly successful, well received films. When you move from a domestic market to an international market you will notice something TVTropes likes to call the "import filter". You can read more about it there, but as 90% of all movies are crud, most films are never exported in the first place.

To show a film in a cinema you typically need to go through a certification process. You pay some board a fee to sit and watch your film, they tell you to cut 1.3 seconds of excessive violence and one incidence of foul language (so that they look like they're working), and then you re-edit the film at your own expense. If you want to show the film in the UK, France, Germany, they all have separate boards. They will all ask for different edits. An example with special relevance to war films: Germany in particular is notably more strict on depictions of violence, Nazi symbolism, and glorification of war. Depending on the local language and culture you will also have to rework a lot of the marketing material too.

The upshot of this is that an international release incurs a lot of additional cost. This has the effect that a film will only be released internationally if the distributors are already relatively sure that they will make a profit. A larger number of films will be made that never get a theatrical release outside the US. For example, IMDb 7.1/10 rated, Tigerland, a domestic flop that grossed less than 2% of its production cost, never had an international release. So one answer to your question is "no, most US military films make little or no money outside the US". Another answer would be "yes, if they get an international release at all they will typically make a fair profit".

The other problem with the question is the assumption that you can so easily split the domestic and foreign profits of big budget films. Pearl Harbor had a budget of ~$151m and domestic takings of ~$198m. After you consider the $45m marketing budget you're little more than breaking even. No one would ever make that film if they were only hoping for that kind of return. When you factor in the international box office takings you get a much more respectable gross of $449m. Did this movie profit outside the US? You could easily say it only made its profit outside the US. More dramatically, Battleship had a budget of $209m, a domestic take of just $65m, and was barely rescued by international sales of $237m.

Anecdotally, I'd say good, honest US military films, with strong production values, are as well received here in the UK as they would be at home, WW2 films especially so. Obviously, films that outright offend a particular country don't do as well. U-571 took only $50m internationally, compared to domestic takings of £77m, probably because no one in the UK went to see it. A rough back-of-the-envelope estimate based on the domestic suggests that this film earned about $65m less internationally than might be expected.

  • 4
    There is no such thing as language barrier, films are simply translated. I beg to differ about costs, IMHO advertising campaign is the biggest one (other than production), which easily dwarfs cost of localization or required cuts.
    – Agent_L
    Jun 25, 2014 at 8:41
  • Remember that I'm talking about the films that don't get exported. If translation, certification and re-editing had zero cost then you would just dump every low budget film into every territory, even without any marketing, because even an extra $1 would be extra profit. In truth many films are never released internationally and there is a reason why - they aren't expected to recover the irreducible costs of exporting. Marketing scales. An aside, "films are simply translated"? Not without impact. Imagine dubbing Sir Patrick Stewart's Xavier... shudder. Jun 25, 2014 at 11:48
  • 3
    Question was about films that do get exported so I kinda missed your point then. OFC no translation is without impact, but eg. in Germany they have voice actors permanently tied to Hollywood stars - so THEIR Patrick Stewart sounds perfectly normal to THEM (and plain wrong to anyone else). There are irreducible costs of every showing, even in domestic market number of copies is limited by many costly factors, including theaters capacity.
    – Agent_L
    Jun 25, 2014 at 12:36
  • 2
    The apparent success of the films that do get exported is biased by the shortage of international failures. Take a bell curve and cut off the left hand side; suddenly everything looks above average! As for the voice actors, consistency isn't enough. Sir Patrick Stewart is noted for the powerful nature of his voice, as are James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, even Vin Diesel. Rarely do such actors get dubs of anything like the same calibre, even as recognised locally. It may be familiar, but lack the impact of the original. Of course, occasionally they do a better job than the original... Jun 25, 2014 at 13:38
  • 6
    I live in a German speaking country, and all those great actors have good dub voices, and even if the original voice is much greater, how would those 90% of our population who never watch the original version even know? Maybe we watch a different movie than the English speaking audience, but as long as we enjoy it, there will be profit. BTW, ironically (because I live in Austria) the dub voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger is better than the original.
    – ammoQ
    Jun 26, 2014 at 7:54

For the movies you quoted, here is the box office in France, and the "users ratings" according to allociné.fr.

  • White House Down : 539 512 tickets sold, 3.4/5
  • Saving Private Ryan : 4 112 849 ticket sold, 4.3/5 (Great Success)
  • Patton : No box office data, 3.6/5
  • Olympus has fallen : 334 159 ticket sold, 3.5/5
  • Jarhead : 240 568 ticket sold, 3.6/5
  • Black Hawk Down : 566 597 ticket sold, 3.8/5
  • The Patriot : 1 156 818 ticket sold, 3.4/5
  • We were soldiers : 152 316 ticket sold, 3.1/5

And i'd like to add :

  • Independance Day : 5 605 524 ticket sold, 3.1/5
  • Lincoln : 1 320 425 ticket sold, 3.6/5
  • Armageddon : 4 591 453 ticket sold, 3.4/5

Knowing that out there, more than 1 million can be considered as a success. More than 500 000 is average for blockbusters and less than 100 000 a flop.

I'll also add that :

On the most popular TV channels, roughly 50% of the movies broadcasted are americans, and some of these have already been broadcasted several times. The rest of the time being shared between french and european movies. Others countries movies being anecdotic. For TV series, it's almost 80% american.


The US makes huge numbers of movies and, in the UK at least, the majority of the movies we see are American. As such, we're completely used to the people in the movies being Americans. The cops in the movies are Americans, the criminals in the movies are Americans, the office workers in the movies are Americans, the spacemen in the movies are Americans, the musicians in the movies are Americans, the clowns in the movies are Americans. Nobody cares because that's how it always is. And the soldiers in the movies are Americans, too. How is that any different?


Although we already have a rather objective box-office oriented answer, I'll try a rather general approach, with the help of some personal experience.

First of all, even if this might not speak for general appreciation, I have seen and ejoyed many, if not all, of the examples you provided. While I am neither an American, nor an American patriot, nor a patriot for my own country above average levels, I can still appreciate the depiction of foreign patriotism and military admiration in movies, if they contribute to the overall impression of the movie.

But that isn't my, and I guess other people's, primary motivation for watching those movies anyway. I think all those movies (measured by your examples at least) don't derive their primary attraction mainly from presenting us people in uniforms to admire and infusing feelings of nationality and patriotism, but simply from their action and drama and from their overall gripping stories and realization, with the governmental/historical/war setting as a backdrop. You certainly don't need to be an American to be moved by Tom Hanks dying for his country, Gerard Butler kicking ass for his president, or Mel Gibson contributing to the birth of his nation.

While the overt patriotism of some of those movies (which isn't the case with many of your examples anyway) might be a deterrent factor for certain people to limit their enjoyment of those movies, it is only a part of the movies' overall impression and there's much more to derive enjoyment from. Add to this that modern American cinema has always had a large influence on the TV and movie landscape of many countries (or at least mine), so people there are certainly accustomed to a healthy portion of American culture in movies anyway.

So I don't see why those movies shouldn't be successful outside of the US and I know (although without specific box-office evidence) that many of your examples were generally pretty successful in my home country and, I guess, around the world.

  • 1
    One problem is the historical inaccuracy. The Patriot for example portrays the British army oppressing 'Americans' who then fight back for their freedom and start the country. In reality the 'Americans' were British too, the taxes they were paying were to fund the army that just secured and defended their land from the rival countries trying to settle there and the conditions were no worse than British people back in England faced. Of course realistically portraying the ungreatfulness, greed and opportunism that really started America probably wouldn't go down so well. :)
    – JamesRyan
    Jun 26, 2014 at 11:55
  • @JamesRyan Well, I didn't say I took those movies as gospel, they're fictional movies afterall.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jun 26, 2014 at 11:59

I don't have an international exposure about that but speaking for me (living in Asia) I have many friends who are crazy about military movies. These movies are not advertised as much by cinemas as mainstream franchises but they make good presence.
A good point just came to mind: Countries with large armies like India, military movies do pretty well

  1. Because army men, their friend/families watch these movies
  2. Usually in those countries people are fairly fond of their armies and these movie hit emotions.

I cannot provide an objective answer to your question and I think it is really hard to find. You can devise a general conclusion if persons from different regions tell their experience.

  • That may be the general answer: "Nope, movies based strongly on nationality are watched by their nation and other nations don't take much interest." This occurred to me, but I thought it might be different with the US being the (statistically) most active military nation. It didn't occur to me that each large nation would have its own movies of this type to watch.
    – user9733
    Jun 24, 2014 at 6:47
  • 2
    Actually I don't think it matters much of which country's military is featured in a movie unless the movie is specifically against the viewer's homeland (generally). Jun 24, 2014 at 6:52
  • Oh, your friends like military movies regardless of nationality involved?
    – user9733
    Jun 24, 2014 at 6:55
  • 4
    Yes. The major factors are not just the military uniforms, it is the action, strategy, 'the war' sets, and much more etc. Jun 24, 2014 at 6:57
  • 3
    @jt0dd: I wouldn't be surprised by that. Wouldn't you think it likely that somewhat "militarily-inclined" viewers could find movies with a strong military component set in a fictional world appealing simply for the military factor, even though the military in question doesn't even exist? Jun 24, 2014 at 10:22

It is hard to tell that from the movies you mention. Because they are all big productions with very well-known artists or directors.

If we think about Saving Private Ryan;

  • Director is Steven Spielberg
  • Cast contains actors like Tom Hanks, Matt Damon etc...

Even with those people in the crew, the movie had got great attention in my country (Turkey). It was a great production and an excellent movie.

I guess you must consider movies without big budget and well-known movies. But, on the other hand, such movies do not have much chance to air in foreign countries.

And finally, USA have great actors and actresses to cast in war movies. So I can say yes, most of USA productions have success in Turkey.


I think it possibly depends on the movie. As a Brit (who admittedly doesn’t watch that many films):

  • White House Down — was reasonably successful
  • Saving Private Ryan — was very successful
  • Patton — never heard of it
  • Olympus Has Fallen — was reasonably successful
  • Jarhead — never heard of it
  • Black Hawk Down — was very successful
  • The Patriot — heard of it, but it wasn’t that successful (probably due to the theme suggested by the title)
  • We Were Soldiers — never heard of it
  • 1
    That's a little bit amusing about The Patriot
    – user9733
    Jun 24, 2014 at 15:41
  • @jt0dd Ah, Mel Gibson... He really doesn't seem to like the English. (Admittedly without him writing any of them) every one of his "historical" films outright fabricates events to make the British and/or English look like monsters. Read the "Historical accuracy" sections on The Patriot, Gallipoli, Braveheart. Even Vietnam War film We Were Soldiers (!), where a real-life English-born American is replaced with a fictional Welsh-born American. Yet, for some reason we haven't stopped watching his films. I thought Apocalypto was fantastic... Jun 25, 2014 at 19:14
  • @imsotiredicantsleep often the greatest works of art are the farthest from reality, yet we enjoy them anyway.
    – user9733
    Jun 25, 2014 at 19:16
  • I doubt The Patriot would have been as well received if the WW2 Nazi war crimes it depicted had been attributed to the Revolutionary forces, rather than the British... Jun 25, 2014 at 19:28

Obviously, it would depend on what the greater appeal is of the movie.

Saving Private Ryan, as cited by others, had great mass appeal. That's because it had a realistic depiction of the actual insanity of WWII on the battlefield, and that the characters had universal appeal - scared, angry, school teachers, family killed in war, wanting to stand by each other - that's pretty universal stuff that anyone can identify with.

Movies that aim for a more, say, jingoistic appeal are obviously not going to play as well or have as much appeal.

So, if the thumbnail synopsis is "Americans kick foreign ass because America is awesome," then that's not going to sell well. If the appeal is something a bit more real, or universal, then that will do well. Obviously, the quality of the acting, writing and movie-making are going to impact this.

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