When the original Captain America movie came out, many wondered how well it would play in massive new Asian markets like China. Would a superhero movie with an in-your-face, pro-America message fare well? Well, the first movie in the franchise was a bit weak outside the U.S. — it grossed $194 million in all international markets combined. Fairly mediocre.
However, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a different story entirely.
The new domestic blockbuster is also off to a sizzling start abroad, hitting $207 million in just 10 days and grossing an incredible $39 million in China in less than two weeks. This places it well above the performance of Iron Man 3, a well-established Marvel series with a hugely charismatic lead.
So, what caused the sudden surge of international interest in Captain America?
It could well be that the surprisingly dark and political plot line is working its magic in countries with skeptical attitudes towards United States.
Captain America is still the idealistic Brooklyn boy with a heart of gold and an old-fashioned American can-do attitude. But the entire narrative of Winter Soldier is wrapped around a tough kernel of vocal, even paranoid opposition to government-controlled surveillance operations.
The creepy depiction of toxic, downright fascist overlords bending large-scale intelligence programs based in Washington DC to evil purposes makes this movie catnip to audiences from Paris to Beijing. And the casting of Robert Redford seems like a nod towards the chilling government assassination program themes of “Parallax View.”
After the first Captain America movie, Marvel has seemed to hit on an ingenious winning formula: you can keep the central character strongly pro-American and turn the NSA and Washington bureaucrats into villains as grotesquely evil as any deformed Nazi monster. That way, you can cover all bases and have the franchise play well in both Saratoga and Shanghai.