It's an important question to ask, though, amid the is-Mel-Gibson's-career-over discussion. Cieply and Barnes frame his overseas issues thusly: "Normally, foreign film markets are deeply forgiving of idiosyncratic behavior or the ravages of time when it comes to action-oriented male stars who have reliably turned out hits. "
Overseas receipts are key to keeping alive the careers of "aging action star[s]", Cieply and Barnes state, which is true—but why be so narrow about it?
Recently, Tom Shone penned a Slate article asking, "Whatever happened to the box-office bomb?" Spoiler alert: it made back its costs plus a respectable profit overseas. (Waterworld actually ended up making $264 million.) In his always interesting annual box-office rundown for Film Comment (not online, alas), Donald Wilson writes:
Avatar's performance abroad suggests the degree to which, in the post-DVD age, the studio model will need to rely even more heavily on simultaneous or near-simultaneous world-wide releases and their international receipts to recoup. Last year was a very strong one for American films abroad, with the traditional 1:1.5 ration of international to domestic gross upended by a number of films... Avatar earned two and a half times as much internationally as it did in the U.S., Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince more than double, as did seeming disappointments like Angels & Demons and Terminator Salvation, rendering them sold hits.
It's not just aging and/or embattled studio studs like Tom Cruise and Sly Stallone (cited by Cieply and Barnes) who're being propped up by foreigners—it's Hollywood itself. (And, you know, the federal budget.) (Or, more kindly, we've taken it upon ourselves to make big movies the whole world loves!) So yes, not only will Mel Gibson never eat lunch in Hollywood again—he's potentially fucked where it really matters, too.
Here's Donald Wilson in Film Comment on the 2009 box-office, again:
If we can take anything else away from the Avatar experience, it's also now safe to assume that 3-D has arrived in a form that's as technically and artistically viable as it is marketable... This is the first year on record in which every major studio released an animated film [digital animation being at the heart of 3-D's success to date], and sans Avatar those films accounted for approximately $1.3 billion in domestic receipts, or nearly 13 percent of the overall take, up from 4.5 percent in 2008.
Yup, making something 3-D is an easy way to pad an extra 10 or 20 percent onto your revenues—it's like breaking it into China's 20-foreign-films-a-year quota system, but with funny glasses. If Europe is going to break form and turn its back on an unfashionable American pop-culture icon for the first time ever, 3-D may be Mel Gibson's only hope. Those veins are gonna pop.