Exposed to global content across a plethora of video streaming platforms, Indian audiences are lapping up Hollywood films even as foreign studios enhance their marketing and localization initiatives for the market that they’ve learnt to consider extremely critical. In 2019, Hollywood, with a combination of spectacular superhero movies and smaller budget, softer films, notched up box office collections of nearly Rs. 1,225 crore in India. Film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said this was several notches above the Rs. 900-950 crore and the Rs. 800-850 crore earned by Hollywood in the country in 2018 and 2017 respectively.

At Rs. 373.22 crore, India got its highest Hollywood grosser of not just 2019, but of all time, in Marvel’s superhero flick Avengers: Endgame. The Anthony and Joe Russo directed film even beat some records set by the biggest Indian blockbuster ever, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. While the Hindi version of Baahubali 2 had crossed the Rs. 100 crore mark in three days, Endgame did it in two days. Disney’s animated musical The Lion King, whose Hindi version was dubbed by Shah Rukh Khan, was next in line, at Rs. 158.71 crore, emerging as the highest Hollywood animation grosser in India. It was followed by Marvel’s superhero film Spider-Man: Far From Home (Rs. 86.11 crore), Captain Marvel (Rs. 84.36 crore), and action thriller Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (Rs. 75.85 crore). The biggest surprise of the year came with American psychological thriller Joker, that made Rs. 67.95 crore, despite an adult rating and no local language dubbed versions.

“2019 has been one of the best years as far as Hollywood goes,” said Devang Sampat, deputy CEO, Cinepolis India. The multiplex chain, that saw Hollywood contribute 7-8% of its total earnings a decade ago, now has 25% coming in from English films. What has, however, changed, is that apart from big superhero films that have always been in demand, Indian audiences are now also flocking to small-budget films that grow with word-of-mouth, Sampat said. Apart from Joker, Disney’s musical fantasy Aladdin made Rs. 55.73 crore in India while Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood managed Rs. 5.35 crore and Bohemian Rhapsody, a biographical drama on Freddie Mercury, completed 50 days in theatres.

“It’s part of the larger globalization process where content has become so easily accessible (on digital streaming platforms),” Johar pointed out, referring to the change in consumer behavior where audiences, especially the youth are aware of foreign language content thanks to social media conversations and are ready to track it when it comes to India. Johar added that most Hollywood films only release in 2K cinemas in India. 2K is a high resolution standard of digital cinema viewing set by Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI), a joint venture of several Hollywood film studios. But despite limited screen count, they often threaten the business of big-ticket Bollywood films.

Further, foreign studios have done much to localize and market films for Indian audiences. Apart from releasing the film and its trailer in multiple Indian languages, sometimes as high as 10, it is now common practice to get popular Bollywood stars to dub for local versions, besides getting them to promote the film on their social media accounts. The localization is also reflected in the writing, where film industry writers are roped in to make the Indian versions seem authentic and fun, and not just translated from English. The other visible change is the increase in the number of Indian brands now wanting to partner with Hollywood films beyond just Hindi movies.

While Sampat says the market for Hollywood can only grow as smaller budget flicks continue to find appeal, Johar looks forward to the big spectacles lined up in the coming months that will release on the same day and date across the globe. As soon as this week, there is Robert Downey Jr and Antonio Banderas-starrer Dolittle. The next installment in the James Bond franchise, No Time to Die will be out on 8 April. While Marvel will release its next superhero film Black Widow starring Scarlett Johansson on 1 May, the next installment of the Fast and Furious franchise is scheduled for 22 May. Wonder Woman 1984, a sequel to 2017’s massively successful Wonder Woman, will be out on 5 June.

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