In the United States, we rarely think about the Hollywood film industry as an international undertaking. It’s surprising, then, to consider that films make more money overseas than at home; in 2017, the global box office hit a record $40.6 billion, while domestic numbers fell to $11.1 billion.
Sure, $11 billion is nothing to sneeze at, but the takeaway is clear: If you’re making a Hollywood blockbuster, the film has to work for international audiences. If your movie makes a bunch of American cultural references, it probably won’t work as well in foreign theaters—and your ticket sales will suffer as a result.
Of course, there’s a simple way to get around that problem. Most studios edit their films before sending them to international distributors, and while some of their changes are minor, some are fairly perplexing (at least when studied from an American perspective). We looked into some of those strange differences and tried to determine why they were necessary.
1. Inside Out changed its vegetables.
Here’s a scenario to show how weird things can get when films go international. Two friends—one in the U.S., the other in Japan—each go to see Pixar’s classic Inside Out in their respective countries on opening weekend. Afterwards, they FaceTime or Skype or whatever it is young people do these days to discuss the film, which they both loved.
“I could really identify with Riley,” says the American. “I loved the scene where she refused to eat her broccoli.”
“What are you talking about?” asks the Japanese friend. “I don’t remember any broccoli. There was that scene where Riley wouldn’t eat her green bell pepper slices, which I totally understand, but…”
“Why are you lying?”
“This friendship is over.”
Yes, that’s right; Inside Out is ruining friendships (at least in the imaginary scenario that we just invented). Both versions exist, of course. The point of the scene was to showcase one of Riley’s emotions, Disgust, played by Mindy Kaling. However, Japanese children apparently love their broccoli.
Director Pete Docter later explained the change in a statement quoted by Business Insider.
“We learned that some of our content wouldn’t make sense in other countries,” Docter said. “For example, in Japan, broccoli is not considered gross. Kids love it. So we asked them, ‘What’s gross to you?’ They said green bell peppers, so we remodeled and reanimated three separate scenes replacing our broccoli with green peppers.”
No word on what the changes cost, but the Japanese version of the scene looks as flawless as the American version.
That wasn’t the only change. In a dinner scene, Riley’s father imagines a hockey game; some international audiences saw a soccer match (okay, fine, football) instead.
“We offered a version with soccer instead of hockey, since soccer is huge in so many parts of the world,” Docter said. “But some countries that are into soccer actually decided to stick with hockey, since the characters in the movie are from Minnesota, and it makes sense that they’d be hockey fans.”
2. All of the 2012 version of Red Dawn had to change in post-production.
If changes are made to a film for its international release, it’s usually only for a few minor scenes. But what happens when the executives realize they need to change the entire movie? After it was shot? Check out the video below to see how producers of the Red Dawn remake narrowly avoided a billion-dollar box office blunder.
If you’re unable to watch the video—or if you prefer our charming, hilarious style of internet content writing—we’ll run through some of the most significant changes. First of all, if you watched the original, unreleased version of Red Dawn, you’d see the invaders carrying Chinese flags. Watch the official release, and you’ll see flags with North Korean symbols instead.
The reasoning for the change is obvious: China has one of the world’s fastest growing film markets, but their government isn’t exactly fond of dissent. If your film’s villains are “every single Chinese person,” it’s probably not going to see a lot of time in Chinese theaters.
Red Dawn’s producers apparently made the changes after the Chinese media picked up on the story. The country’s largest paper, Global Times, reportedly ran editorials decrying the film’s effort to “[plant] hostile seeds against China,” so Red Dawn planted “hostile seeds” against North Korea instead.
Of course, that created some issues with the film’s logic; North Korea has a population of about 24 million, many of whom are starving. If the country decided to invade the United States—a country with 328 million well-fed and well-armed citizens—they probably wouldn’t get very far.
Critics didn’t love the changes (or the film itself, sadly), and actor C. Thomas Howell, who starred in the original 1984 film, criticized the new villains in an interview with USA Today.
“Quite frankly, we all know North Korea cannot afford to invade (itself). How is that going to happen?’ asked Howell. “That’s already stupid in my book.”
“Maybe there’s good acting, maybe there’s some great dialogue so we can all overlook that giant leap that any Asian can play any Asian and it doesn’t matter—just (change by computer) any flag on there and get the movie out,” he continued. “I think it’s pretty ridiculous. if you really want to know the truth.”
3. Jack Torrance’s novel changed in The Shining.
All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but it was just fine for Stanley Kubrick. The notoriously detail-oriented director didn’t think the phrase that makes up the whole of Torrance’s novel would translate into other languages, so he came up with original phrases that would speak directly to people of different nationalities.
If you haven’t seen The Shining in a while, the scene occurs when Shelley Duvall’s character, Wendy, finds the hundreds of pages that read “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” German audiences, however, saw the phrase, “Was du heute kannst besorgen, das vershiebe nicht auf morgen.”
That translates into “Never put off until tomorrow what can be done today.” That’s very…German.
The Spanish version of the manuscript reads, “No por much madrugar amanece más temprano,” which means, “No matter how early you get up, you can’t make the sun rise any sooner.”
True enough. But our favorite version, by far, is in Italian. “Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca,” the pages read, over and over again. In English, that’s “The morning has gold in its mouth.” And with that, one of the creepiest films ever made gets even more creepy.
4. Buzz Lightyear’s Speech in Toy Story 2 got the Randy Newman treatment overseas.
Before Andy’s toys take off on a madcap adventure across town in Pixar’s Toy Story 2, Buzz Lightyear stands up and gives them an inspiring speech. If you saw this film in the U.S., you might remember that an American flag appears behind the plastic astronaut. “The Star-Spangled Banner” even plays during the scene. It’s enough to make a bald eagle shed a single tear.
Of course, that wasn’t going to do much for international audiences, so the studio decided to replace the images and the music. Instead of a flag, a spinning globe forms Buzz Lightyear’s backdrop during this rousing speech. Instead of the “Star Spangled Banner,” international viewers were treated to a brand new Randy Newman tune called the “One World Anthem.”
So the rest of the world gets that much more Randy Newman than American audiences, which hardly seems fair.
5. Lincoln was a fairly straightforward film…provided that you know about the Civil War.
In the United States, the Civil War is an important part of the school curriculum. Even if you’re not a history buff, you can probably name a few major battles and recite a couple lines from the Gettysburg Address. Foreign audiences, understandably, aren’t quite as familiar with the war or its effect on American culture. Hey, think about it—how much do you really know about, say, the Spanish Civil War?
Steven Spielberg assumed that foreign audiences would be confused, so he added a minute-long introduction to the international release of his biopic Lincoln. It’s basically a crash course on the Confederacy, and it gives viewers some background information on the war using title cards and actual photographs from the era.
“We worked on this with Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner,” Paul Hanneman, co-president of 20th Century Fox International, told Hollywood Reporter. “It’s seamless and quite beautiful, actually. And there is the John Williams score playing over it.”
“It’s not a biopic about Abraham Lincoln, it’s a moment in time that changed history,” he continued. “From a publicity perspective, we’re not trying to make this a movie about politics.”
If it were up to us, we’d just force international audiences to watch the entirety of Ken Burns’ The Civil War, but that’s probably why we don’t work at a major film company. In any case, the film’s foreign numbers weren’t spectacular; while Lincoln made $182 million domestically, it only pulled in $93 million internationally.
Still, given its $65 million budget, we’d call it a success. Hopefully, the numbers are strong enough to convince Spielberg to return for a sequel in which Lincoln returns from the grave to take part in the Spanish Civil War (something that we assume actually happened, since, again, we know nothing about the Spanish Civil War).
6. The Chinese version of Iron Man 3 adds a few scenes.
What’s a quick, easy way to make your film more relatable for Chinese audiences? Simple: Add some new lines for the Chinese actors.
In the film, protagonist Tony Stark meets a Chinese doctor named Dr. Wu, who only appears briefly in most versions of the film. In the Chinese version, however, Dr. Wu has several new scenes, and the television in his office plays an odd sequence where Iron Man stands around with a group of children. Per Kotaku, the scene serves no real purpose, other than to make the film slightly more effective for Chinese audiences.
Dr. Wu also speaks with J.A.R.V.I.S., a robot butler, declaring at one point that “Tony doesn’t have to do this alone. China can help.”
Oh, and there’s a scene where Dr. Wu pours a glass of milk, but it’s not really important for the plot; it’s a bit of product placement for Yili, a Chinese milk brand (the brand also ran in-theater advertisements for Iron Man 3 audiences).
As if that weren’t enough, the film adds a new character, played by actor Fan Bingbing, who helps to extract a piece of shrapnel from the titular character’s chest.
“What if we accidentally kill him?” Fan Binbing asks Dr. Wu while they’re operating on the hero. “Everyone will know it was our fault.”
Dr. Wu tells her that they simply won’t fail. And of course they won’t—after all, the scene isn’t even in the international version.
If this all sounds like unnecessary pandering, well, many Chinese audiences certainly agree with that assessment. People’s Daily, the a Chinese newspaper, ran an editorial that criticized the extra scenes as “not related to the main plot.”
“I watched two movies,” one viewer reportedly told the paper. “One was Iron Man, and the other was Fan Bingbing and Wang Xuey.”
7. In Demolition Man, Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock like different fast food depending on where you see it.
And, of course, some product placement. In the futuristic film’s timeline, Taco Bell is the only fast food restaurant to “survive the franchise wars,” according to Bullock’s character. The pair arrives at Taco Bell, which is ridiculously swanky; a piano player welcomes guests, and everyone’s dressed in three-piece suits and evening gowns.
The joke didn’t really work for foreign audiences since Taco Bell isn’t a worldwide food chain. The filmmakers opted to use Pizza Hut instead—apparently, fast food has to be terrible in the future—and the lead actors dubbed over their lines for the international release.
The dubbing is pretty awkward. In the edited clip, Sylvester Stallone replaces the line “I like Mexican food, come on” with “I like a big fat piece of pizza,” rushing through the line like his life depends on it. Hey, Stallone’s not exactly known for his graceful line reads.
8. 2012’s Total Recall had a few changes to appeal to Chinese audiences.
Here’s an instance where the changes for international audiences actually made it into the mainstream version of the film.
Originally, the science fiction film featured two areas of civilization: the United Federation of Britain and New Asia, which were connected by another area called The China Fall. Those names were consistent throughout production—then changed shortly before the film hit theaters.
In the official release, New Asia is “The Colony,” while China Fall is “The Fall.” As you’ve probably guessed by now, the change was made to appeal to the sensibilities of Chinese viewers.
“It was one of the concerns of the studio about being so specific about… it was slanting too much to where we were saying that was the entire culture, and it’s not,” director Len Wiseman told CinemaBlend. “It’s meant to be a melting pot of an entire society… it’s two surviving zones and the working class is a combination, a melting pot, of many different races and cultures and such. It also informs why the architecture is a mix and blend of everything. And it seemed like it was too specific.”
That’s a nice explanation, but as CinemaBlend notes, it’s likely that Chinese censors played some sort of role in prompting the changes. Still, it’s a minor difference, and a financially savvy one: While Total Recall made about $58 million domestically on its $125 million budget, it recouped some of those losses with a $139 million foreign take.
9. Captain America’s Winter Soldier to-do list changed significantly overseas.
In The Winter Soldier, Captain America carries a list of things he needs to learn about (since, you know, he’s been napping for several decades). The list includes items like the moon landing, the Berlin Wall (“Up + Down”), Thai food, and our favorite, disco.
To make the gag work in other languages, Disney changed the list significantly for other countries, as Comics Alliance reports. Russian viewers saw a list of items that included Yuri Garagin (the first human to journey into outer space), Vladimir Vysotsky (a Russian poet and actor), and Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears (a 1980 Soviet film).
In the United Kingdom, the list included The Beatles, Sean Connery, and the 1966 World Cup final (which England won). South Korean viewers saw Oldboy, Ji-Sung Park, and the 2002 World Cup (which Brazil won). In Australia, the list’s top items were replaced by AC/DC, Steve Irwin, and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (a popular Australian children’s show).
Interestingly, the end of the list didn’t change, so regardless of where you saw The Winter Soldier, you’d see “Star Wars/Trek, Nirvana (Band), Rocky (Rocky II?) and Trouble Man (Soundtrack).” The only one of those we didn’t recognize was the Trouble Man soundtrack, which was an album produced by Marvin Gaye.
As it turns out, some things are truly universal—and apparently, Rocky II falls into that category.