In February, China’s box office topped North America’s for the first time ever. Wait, “topped” is too weak a word—the U.S. and Canada combined for just under $800 million while China raked in over $1 billion, meaning they could have spotted us the domestic gross of 007’s Spectre and still won.
And it’s not just China. Quick, which of these men wasn’t one of the 10 highest paid film actors in Forbes 2015 rankings?
A. Amitabh Bachchan
B. Salman Khan
C. Akshay Kumar
D. Leonard DiCaprio
The answer, of course, is D.
Yes, Leo’s mere $29 million over the 12-month ranking period wasn’t enough to push him ahead of three Indian megastars. Bachchan ($33.5 million) is semi-known to Americans thanks to The Great Gatsby—sharing the screen with Oscar-winning pauper DiCaprio—and a shout-out in Slumdog Millionaire when our young hero literally crawls through shit to meet him. Khan and Kumar haven’t received any mainstream attention on these shores, but it didn’t stop them from earning $33.5 and $32.5 million, respectively.
So, if you’re looking for a bit more international flavor with your blockbusters, here are five massive films that mostly missed us. As the debate rages over Hollywood’s extreme whiteness, consider this your opportunity to embrace diversity and profits.
World Box Office: Roughly $120 million
Individual Bollywood films don’t tend to make much by Hollywood standards—it’s hard to rake it in when your ticket prices range from under a dollar to maybe four bucks—so it’s notable that PK became the first Indian flick to crack the $100 million barrier. Watch star Aamir Khan in the un-subtitled trailer of this comedy about an alien learning to live on Earth that enraged religious groups… and find yourself absolutely baffled by a movie that plays like Billy Madison with more musical numbers. Incidentally, PK earned over $10 million in the U.S.—more than the most recent films by Paul Thomas Anderson, Sofia Coppola and Woody Allen.
Dragon Blade (2015)
World Box Office: Over $120 million
Jackie Chan’s American conquest began with the 1996 release of Rumble in the Bronx, followed by 1998’s Rush Hour, which became a franchise that has earned over $500 million in the U.S. You probably haven’t seen too much of Jackie recently, but don’t worry: He stays busy across the Pacific making movies like this one. Set on the ancient Silk Road—if you’ve longed to see John Cusack as a Roman general, behold—Dragon Blade was essentially unreleased in the U.S., collecting $74,068. It did slightly better in China ($116.8 million), a big reason Chan was second to only Robert Downey Jr. in the last Forbes rankings, as he earned $50 million and has a net worth estimated as high as $350 million.
Red Cliff: Part 1 and 2 (2008 and 2009)
World Box Office: Nearly $250 million
In 2003, I interviewed John Woo while he edited the Ben Affleck film Paycheck and asked if he’d ever return to Hong Kong, where he directed classics The Killer and Bullet in the Head. He said no. We were both wrong: Woo left L.A. but went to the mainland. The recreation of a war fought 1,800 years ago showed China could make epics to rival Hollywood’s. (Further confession: I watched both parts at a screening on the Fourth of July—don’t tell President Trump, anybody.) While Woo’s Face/Off and Mission: Impossible II made a combined $327 million in America, a version condensing the two Cliffs into a single film earned just $627,047 here, as he joined Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun-Fat, Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh in finding American success, then deciding they’d be fine without it.
The Intouchables (2011)
World Box Office: $426.6 million
Intouchables, not Untouchables. Anyone expecting to see Sean Connery take down Capone is in for a jolt, as it’s a French movie about a super-rich white paraplegic who decides his caretaker should be a young black “street guy.” [INSERT COMEDY HERE.] Proving Asia isn’t the only continent capable of making non-Hollywood hits, The Intouchables became a massive, critically acclaimed success across Europe and additional lands other than ours. (Japan quite liked it.) One way that it differs from American films: Our trailers are less likely to include characters bonding over a Hitler mustache.
The Mermaid (2016)
World Box Office: $500 million and counting
American audiences know actor/writer/director Stephen Chow for comedies Shaolin Soccer (2001) and the Golden Globe-nominated Kung Fu Hustle (2004). Chow has since cut back on acting, which leaves more time to serve on China’s “top political advisory board” (you know, as one does). The Mermaid offers more of what fans of Chow’s earlier work adored: deeply strange jokes that are often very funny, such as a man’s attempt to describe a mermaid to a police sketch artist who can’t quite get that human/fish ratio right. While Chow’s 2008 E.T.-esque CJ7 squashed his American career and The Mermaid shows limited signs of reviving it, with the money this one’s raking in, one has to wonder if he even really gives a shit.