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Finley Crebolder

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Laurène Boglio

Will the FIFA World Cup affect your cinema plans this summer?

Film distributors are using various tactics to counteract the forthcoming football extravaganza.

For anyone not already aware, the FIFA World Cup is kind of a big deal. Every four years the tournament attracts an average global audience of around three billion. With close to half the world’s population glued to their television sets, it stands to reason that cinema attendances should dip during the 30-day footballing extravaganza.

This year alone, both Incredibles 2 and Ant-Man and the Wasp are being released in the UK a month later than the US in a bid to avoid any overlap with the World Cup. In response fans of the latter have started a petition to move the film’s release date forward, claiming that the delay is unnecessary. Which begs the question: just how much of an impact does the World Cup have on the film industry?

Generally speaking the tournament doesn’t pull in huge crowds in North America (despite the 1994 USA World Cup still holding the record for attendance figures), and as such the major film studios rarely bother shifting release dates to accommodate it. Case in point: Michael Bay’s Armageddon, which took the US box office by storm in July, 1998, despite its lukewarm critical reception. Being released at an ideal time for a summer blockbuster, the film earned $36m on its opening weekend and went on to gross to over $201m in the US and Canada alone, making it the second highest grossing film of the year.

Yet while Armageddon went on to become the highest grossing film of 1998 worldwide, it did not enjoy the same level of success everywhere. Due to the World Cup taking place between 10 June and 12 July, the film was held back until 5 August in France, the tournament’s host nation, and 7 August in the UK. In France Armageddon was only the seventh highest grossing of the year, while it performed only marginally better in the UK, finishing the year as the fourth highest grossing film.

In June, 2006, the likes Cars, Superman Returns, and Over the Hedge all performed well at the North American box office. The first two of these films were released later in the UK, shortly after the end of the World Cup, and went on to place ninth and tenth respectively on the end of year box office charts, compared to third and fifth highest worldwide. In the UK, Over the Hedge was one of the few notable releases during the World Cup, suggesting that a film targeting audiences other than adult males can still perform well. This view was upheld by Pablo Nogueroles, a managing director at Warner Bros, in an interview with Deadline: “We have historically dated films during the World Cup that mainly play to a more female target and I still think there are opportunities for films that are more familiar orientated.”

This was again shown to be true in 2014. The Fault in Our Stars was initially slated for release in August and September, but this changed when, eyeing an opportunity, Fox brought the release forward into the World Cup frame. The idea was to offer audiences an alternative to the football, and the strategy worked, with the film grossing $307m from a $12m budget.

The World Cup’s most pronounced effect on the film industry occurred in 2014. On the weekend following the start of the tournament, the overall UK box office totalled just $12m – almost $4m down on the same weekend in the previous year. Perhaps the biggest casualty was Transformers: Age of Extinction. The fourth film in the Transformers franchise grossed a mammoth $1.1bn worldwide, becoming the highest grossing film of the year. But once again the studio was keen to avoid clashing with the World Cup for a full month in Europe and South America, and so waited until early July to release the film in several territories.

Nevertheless, the World Cup seemingly damaged the film’s performance. In the host nation, Brazil, the film made $2.7m on its opening week, considerably less than the $5.7m earned by previous franchise instalment Dark of the Moon in 2011. In the UK, Age of Extinction was only the thirteenth highest grossing film of the year, making $12m less than its predecessor.

Of course, there are many factors that determine a film’s commercial success, and in some cases, a poor performance in a World Cup year could be mere coincidence. However, studios are clearly aware of the risk of clashing with such a major event, as one executive told Deadline: “No film anyone expects to gross over $100m is scheduled during the tournament. You can take a calculated bet on a smaller movie, but not on a tentpole.”

While studios have only the option of moving their releases outside of the 30-day World Cup period, cinema chains have attempted to use the tournament to their advantage. In 2010, 40 screens nationwide screened quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final live. The following World Cup, Cineworld decided against this and saw their profits drop by 16 per cent. This year, The Luna Cinema, the UK’s biggest outdoor cinema chain, is screening a total of 40 matches at their beach venue in Brighton. Others are likely to follow suit, with some Odeon branches already confirming they will show the final on 15 July.

Despite the demand of non-football fans, this all points to the fact that global events such as the World Cup can have a profound effect on the film industry. Have you ever missed a film just to see your favourite national team play? And if so, will you be doing so again this summer? Let us know @LWLies

Published 11 Jun 2018

Tags: FIFA World Cup

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