If you’re looking at these films from the perspective of their grosses, they’re obviously not comparable to American studio releases. In total, the six films have earned $11.1 million, which is less than the $13.2 million that Disney-Pixar’s Coco made on just its first day of release.
Some of these films haven’t made it beyond a few handfuls of theaters in the States, and Aardman’s Early Man, which had the most mainstream release among these films, launching in nearly 2,500 theaters, was a box office letdown. In fact, it’s looking like it’ll end up as Aardman’s weakest theatrical release ever in the United States.
Still, this is a major achievement worth celebrating. These films are emblematic of the richness of the animation global animation scene. Even five years ago, it would have been inconceivable that there would be six foreign animated features from three different continents, produced in a variety of animation techniques and targeting vastly different audiences, that would all secure theatrical distribution in the United States in a two-month period. It’s happening now because there’s more animated features being produced than ever before, and there’s more American distributors willing to take a chance on global animation.
And while the films haven’t exactly been setting the box office ablaze, they are performing well on their own terms. The GKIDS release of Mary and the Witch’s Flower, for example, has earned $2.3 million to date, more than doubling the gross of the previous GKIDS box office champ, From Up on Poppy Hill, which earned $1 million at the box office. (Mary’s office was boosted by a handful of special screenings through Fathom Events, suggesting that with innovative distribution models, an even larger, still-untapped audience exists for animated features.)
What’s more, the U.S. marketplace is not essential to the success of any of these films. Most foreign animated features are budgeted in such a way that the film will have earned back its production costs in local markets before it’s ever distributed in the United States. If the film breaks out in the U.S., all the better for its American distributor, but it’s not necessarily reflective of the film’s financial health.
The first two months of 2018 have put U.S. theatrical feature animation in uncharted territory. It’s unclear if these half-dozen theatrical releases are an anomaly or a sign of things to come, but what’s certainly not up for debate is that foreign animation production will continue to rapidly grow in the years to come.