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A recent trend that I've noticed (or I'm just crazy and need to delete this question) is to release a major film outside of the U.S. first, even if it's a Hollywood film. Usually a week or so later the film gets released in the U.S.

Why are movies being released this way?

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In some cases the original delay involved the time required for licensing (music), appropriate copyrights, ratings, and in some cases the redubbing of the film into other languages. The latter of which can not typically begin until the final edit is determined. In some major films (especially action films) the final edit may not be complete until the film initially releases.

As film companies see better returns internationally, they try to shorten this process or build it in for a world-wide release.

In the cases of American film releases outside the US first; there are a number of reasons. One can be to build US expectation; to assess general reaction before domestic release in the event the film needs to be reedited, or in some cases the delays above (such as rating or licensing) may cause a delay.

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When I first wrote this answer this trend was fairly new. Historically Hollywood movies opened in the USA first (weeks or even months before the rest of the world if you go back a decade or two). However by 2012 simultaneous releases had become the new procedure that the industry was experimenting with. Since 2012 it has clearly become the norm for movies to open somewhere in the 'rest of the world' before it opens in the USA.

The main enabling factor was technological changes in movie distribution. With digital rather than film distribution it is much easier and quicker to distribute movies. With the method of distribution being less of a barrier, you can now design your launch of the movie to meet your other needs.

One important reason is that you can build the reputation of a movie before it opens in the USA, one of the biggest markets in terms of revenue.

However another key factor in the minds of studio execs is preventing piracy cutting into profits. It used to be very hard to pirate a movie. You would often have to film a movie in a theater, and the quality would be normally pretty bad. A pirated movie on VHS or DVD would be notably lower quality than the product in the theatre.

Nowadays, with vastly better technology, it is far easier and cheaper for high quality pirated copies of movies to be made and quickly distributed worldwide. Studio's have to hit the worldwide market much faster to prevent pirated copies of the movie diluting their profits, especially around the world in markets where enforcement of pirated content is not so strong.

  • deskofbrian.com/2012/04/… is an example of a big movie seen outside the US first, though I'm struggling to connect this with your piracy theory. – hexparrot May 2 '12 at 18:06
  • @hexparrot - thanks for the example. The argument is that if a movie appears in one territory, particularly the USA weeks before it appears in other territories with perhaps lower enforcement of copyright laws - that (enough) people will resort to watching pirated copies and not wait and pay to see the movie in the theatre. By enough - I mean enough that the studio is bothered about the reduced revenue. I wish I could find a reference, but I have heard this discussed on a movie review radio show. – iandotkelly May 2 '12 at 19:29
  • just a comment to your point "a decade ago" ... I bought the US Laserdisc of Dragonheart and watched it a week before the movie got released in our cinemas in germany – RRZ Europe Dec 20 '18 at 10:35
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My understanding is that the US, being a huge market and often at least a third of the film's worldwide revenue, can be used to push up if hype is a factor.

With the Avengers, if they know in advance it's going to be a success - and franchises tend to do well worldwide - especially superhero ones, releasing internationally only intensifies the hype back in the US (and Canada, I should point out, having just moved here from New Zealand, I'm gutted that I have to wait longer than my Kiwi friends who have all seen it). A week later, everyone in the US (and Canada) goes to see it.

It's just a theory, but I suspect the actual marketing plan involved is just a theory anyway.

A youtube blogger suggest that THIS is the reason for it...that by releasing it worldwide, it helps to combat the threat of worldwide piracy that happens when movies are released first in the US. However, one would think that since worldwide sales tend to be 2/3 of big blockbuster sales, the opportunity for piracy increases immediately and those with fast internet connections in the US could just download it, negating that effect.

  • could you provide a synopsis of what's in the youtube video? – DForck42 May 3 '12 at 16:09
  • added and updated – Mark Mayo May 3 '12 at 19:28
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I've read many explanations and none of them make any sense except for one: piracy.

If a movie were to be released in America first, the audio would be English. MANY people around the world can speak or understand English so they would be able to easily watch a pirated movie. If they don't understand English, then subtitles can easily be added by anyone. Nowadays, movies get released in predominantly non-English speaking countries (in other words, English isn't their first language) first so those pirated movies would be useless to everyone unless they happen to understand what's being said. Also, if an American movie is meant to contain English audio, and does (of course), the predominantly English-speaking people won't want to watch those pirated copies... even if English subtitles were to be supplied.

Since the population of the rest of the world dwarfs the USA, the movies will, of course, make more profit abroad... and releasing them abroad first ensures that the film studios won't have to worry about "English piracy" too much in the first couple of weeks and make more money at the box office.

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According to this article, it has a lot to do with how the market in other countries is becoming a bigger factor these days, movies can make more money in other countries than in the US if it's good enough. From other things I've read it also has to do with piracy, people in America pirating a theatrical release, then distributing it on the internet for the world to see, granted that's kinda reversed now as I see a lot of pirated films from other countries, so not sure why that would really matter.

Not long ago, homegrown Hollywood "event movies" like these would have opened in America first, then abroad. Or they would have opened everywhere in the world on the same day, a measure that not only created worldwide hype for the films but also thwarted pirates who might have taken advantage of the release-date gap to flood a country's streets with bootleg DVDs from another country where the movie had already opened. So what changed? Why does Hollywood now make America wait to see its own movies until after they've premiered throughout the rest of the world?

More than anything else, the shift reflects how the international market, once just gravy for Hollywood, has eclipsed the domestic market as the main source of revenue for mainstream theatrical releases. As big as last year's "The Avengers" was at home ($623.4 million), it was even bigger abroad ($888.4 million). Of that foreign total, $185.1 million came in on the film's overseas opening weekend, which took place a week before the movie premiered here. So it's no wonder that Disney would repeat the strategy for "Iron Man 3."

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