Going to the movies is a popular past-time in Russia; according to data collected by Nevafilm, in 2014 Russia had the second highest number of theater admissions in Europe. The country boasts over 3,800 theater screens, located in almost 1,200 movie theaters. The vibrant history of cinema in Russia dates back to the days of the Russian Empire, but the film industry truly established itself during the Soviet era. Popular films sanctioned by the Soviet government and produced by the Mosfilm studio such as The Irony of Fate, Solaris, and War and Peace are considered some of the greatest Russian films ever made, and remain widely viewed today. In recent decades, Hollywood films have proliferated in Russian theaters, but Russian films such as Brother and Night Watch have also found an audience outside the country.
This blog post examines the top movies of 2015 in Russia. The most popular films in Russia are compared with the highest grossing films elsewhere in the world, which provides insight into which global franchises underperform in Russia and those that do comparatively better. This can help when deciding which films to target for advertising campaigns. For example, a large ad campaign themed from The Hunger Games would not have the impact in Russia that it would in the United States, but one focused on the Terminator franchise may do much better. This post also provides insight into how the domestic film industry performed last year.
Note: This data includes box office receipts from the rest of the Commonwealth of Independent States as well, which includes eight other former Soviet republics. Among these countries are two besides Russia where Yandex has a significant presence, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Hollywood Dominates in 2015
Highest Grossing Movies in Russia/CIS, 2015
1.Avengers: Age of Ultron
4.Star Wars: The Force Awakens
8.Fifty Shades of Grey
Information courtesy of Box Office Mojo. Used with permission.
Many of the blockbuster films in Russia last year are not too surprising, as they were among the highest grossing films elsewhere in the world as well. The most popular film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, was the fourth-highest grossing film in the world, and the third-highest in the United States. After just a couple weeks in theaters, Star Wars: The Force Awakens became the fourth-highest grossing film of the year. As shown by the partnership with Yandex, the Star Wars phenomenon has not been missed on Russia, despite the fact that the original trilogy was not shown in Russian theaters until the final years of the Soviet Union. Elsewhere in the list, of the ten biggest films in Russia, seven were among the global top ten. The three films that ranked in the top ten globally but not in Russia were Spectre, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. These are all films from franchises that are less popular in Russia than they are in other large markets for Hollywood. The first The Hunger Games: Mockingjay movie placed just 22nd in 2014 in Russia, while The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was 15th in 2013 and The Hunger Games was 24th in 2012. Though the James Bond series does not have the cachet in Russia that it does elsewhere in the world, Spectre also performed worse than other recent 007 films in the country. The Mission: Impossible series of films, meanwhile, have never expanded beyond being mildly successful in Russia.
The films that ranked in the top ten in Russia but not elsewhere in the world were Terminator: Genisys, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Home. Genisys is the most telling of these, as the film was a major disappointment in its home market. The film ranked a lowly 32nd in the American box office, but elsewhere in the world, the film placed 16th and grossed more than Terminator 3 (2003) and Terminator Salvation (2009). Genisys was even more successful in Russia, where it ranked sixth. While the Terminator franchise has waned in the U.S., it seemingly endures in Russia, where Terminator 3 and Salvation also performed comparatively better than they did in the U.S.
The success of Fifty Shades of Grey may seem odd in a socially conservative country, but the film’s popularity builds off the sensation of the Russian translation of the books. The scandalous nature of the movie also certainly played into its success at the box office (the film was banned in some regions of the country). Animated family films have proven to be popular in Russian theaters, so Home’s success in Russia is not surprising.
Although it was not in the top ten, the 12th highest grossing film deserves special mention. Seventh Son, a fantasy film starring Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, flopped in the United States, and underperformed globally as well. The film did not crack the top one hundred in the U.S., and was ranked just 49th elsewhere in the world. However, the Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov directed the film, and high profile fantasy films usually do well in Russia. The success of the film in Russia, especially relative to the rest of the world, shows how a major figure of Russian cinema in a Hollywood production can influence its impact. Generally speaking, the film also represents the popularity of fantasy films in Russia.
A Weak Year for Russian Films
One thing that stands out among the ten most popular movies is that there is no Russian film present. Last year was the first in over a decade that no domestic film has reached the top ten. In 2014, the fantasy film Viy 3D was the fourth highest grossing film, while in 2013 the World War II film Stalingrad shot to the top of the box office with a gross of $52 million, making it one of the most successful Russian films ever made. There was no such blockbuster in 2015, when the highest grossing Russian film placed at 14th. Three Heroes: The Knight is an animated film adapted from a popular Russian fairy tale (Russian folklore and literature has provided the basis for many Russian films). This was the only Russian film to place in the top 20. Some of the other popular Russian films included Soulless 2, the sequel to a 2012 drama; The Best Day, a comedy film; Charodey Ravnovesiya (which roughly translates to the Magician of Equilibrium), an animated historical fantasy film; and The Battle for Sevastopol, a World War II romantic drama.
It is important to note that though there were no Russian blockbusters last year, this does not mean it was an unprofitable year for the Russian film industry. Russian films are produced on much smaller budgets than Hollywood films, with major films rarely costing more than $5 million to make. Stalingrad was a very expensive movie when compared with other Russian films, but even its budget of $30 million pales in comparison with Hollywood blockbusters.
Russian Films in 2016
Looking ahead to the rest of 2016, it is unlikely that the drought of Russian films from the top ten will continue for a second year. If nothing else, the sequel to the 2014 blockbuster Viy 3D will almost certainly crack the top ten, provided it remains on track for a 2016 release. The filmmakers also appear to be preparing the film for success in the massive market next door, as the film is titled Viy 2: Journey to China. Should the film get pushed to 2017, a couple of other movies seem primed for success in the Russian box office. Historical drama is a popular genre for Russian films, and the high-budget Mathilde, with a plot revolving around Nicholas II, looks set to do well this year. The 2013 blockbuster Stalingrad was Russia’s first homegrown IMAX film, and 2016 will see at least two more IMAX releases; The Duelist, another imperial drama, and Flight Crew, a remake of a popular 1979 Soviet disaster film. If the runaway success of Stalingrad is anything to go by, these two IMAX releases will perform well in the domestic box office, particularly as they both feature ensemble casts as well.