5 Reasons Foreign Home Video Kicks U.S. Butt

Here's a fun fact: Even though the United States is responsible for roughly 85% of box office profits worldwide, we only make 13% of the world's films. As such, it should come as no surprise that the US home video market is vastly different (and arguably quite inferior) to its worldwide counterparts. Don't believe me? Just take a minute and check out the countless DVD and Blu-ray releases you can find on international retail websites that you can't get in the US.

Europe and Asia have already released Blu-ray editions of dozens of fan-favorites including Ronin, Almost Famous, The Crow, Zodiac, and Air Force One (just to name a scant few). New high-def releases like Sweeney Todd have been on UK shelves for months. The Japanese and the Brits release intricate models of alien heads and iconic characters that, oh yeah, also house feature-packed DVDs. More to the point, an enormous catalog of domestic classics, award-winning foreign films, and challenging arthouse flicks have found releases in other countries in both standard and high definition, typically in much smaller markets than we have in the US. Honestly, after digging through international sites for the better part of an hour, I began to feel like the studio system is inadvertently beating US consumers with the short end of the proverbial stick.

More films, more demand, and more tantalizing releases have led to an exciting international marketplace that has gone largely overlooked in the US. I decided to find out how these markets are out-Hollywooding Hollywood, to uncover the secrets of their success, and to talk a bit about how you, the domestic consumer, can benefit from everything the international home video market has to offer.

Catalog Aggression As depressing as it may be, there are countless catalog films that will probably never earn a US DVD debut, much less a proper Blu-ray release. To this day, my mother bemoans the fact that The African Queen isn't available on DVD. But because international consumers have a variety of different tastes and because companies like Studio Canal nab rights to catalog titles in bulk, many of these forgotten classics have earned DVD and even BD releases in other countries. Over the last few months, I've had the pleasure of importing Blu-ray releases of Great Expectations (1939), Black Narcissus (1946), The Seventh Seal (1957), and Capricorn One (1976) from the UK and other markets around the world.

In fact, it's tough to find a film that isn't available on DVD in one country or another (even tried and true American classics). More importantly, as Blu-ray continues gaining market share around the world, more and more films are appearing and being scheduled for release in high definition.

More Independent Distributors The thing to understand is that it's all about supply. Whereas a production studio is focused on the development, creation, and delivery of a film from start to finish, an independent distributor simply purchases the rights to a pre-existing film they can package and sell in a specific market. Because independent distributors have relatively low overhead costs, even a niche release can generate enough capital to allow their company to buy dozens of other titles.

Showbox Media Group, a successful UK distributor that recently acquired the rights to a Thai martial arts film called Chocolate, does just that. For a reasonable price and the cost of a simultaneous DVD and Blu-ray release, Showbox can turn a quick profit, expand the UK's desire for genre films, and invest their money in other imports. Granted, domestic distribution companies have used the same business model to deliver an increasing number of foreign films to American cinefiles over the last decade, but European and Asian markets simply have far more independent distributors and, as a result, access to more releases.