With the exhibition landscape in 2020 marked by a slim and unpredictable film slate, teen romantic drama After We Collided has emerged as a rare success story—an American indie that’s found substantial success in overseas markets hurting for new films to bring to consumers.
Released in 32 international markets in early- to mid-September—plus an October day-and-date release in the United States by Open Road Films and scattered other international releases throughout autumn or forthcoming—After We Collided has as of December 3 earned $49.8M internationally, surpassing higher-budgeted films like The New Mutants, Greenland, and Unhinged. The film’s box office ranking—currently it’s the 14th highest grosser of the year globally—can certainly be attributed in part to a global pandemic that’s pushed all but a few studio tentpoles into 2021 or off the theatrical release calendar entirely. But to point entirely to the absence of competition as the reason for After We Collided’s success negates the impact of its international-first release strategy, developed by production company and sales agent Voltage Pictures and their overseas distribution partners.
After We Collided’s international success isn’t exactly a surprise. Based on the second book in a five-book YA series, its predecessor, 2019’s After, earned over 80 percent of its box office overseas, with its international cume of $57.6 million outstripping its domestic total by over 450 percent. The second film was finished, recalls Voltage Pictures President and COO Jonathan Deckter, in late February or early March, meaning there was never a release plan for the film that didn’t take Covid-19 into account. Days before a planned announcement that the film would hit theaters on October 2, Warner Bros. claimed that date for Wonder Woman 1984. A decision had to be made: move the film back to November or forward to September. The latter course of action was favored by Voltage’s European distribution partners, recalls Deckter, who argued that “‘We see a window there. We know the second wave is going to come. Let’s get out while the getting’s good.” (The getting did not prove good, of course, for Wonder Woman 1984’s one-time planned October release.)
“We planted our flag” for early September, Deckter says, “and lo and behold, we wound up with probably the best release date of an independent movie this year, because we had the majority of Europe open for the majority of the run.” A fortuitous release date resulted in After We Collided doing “as good if not better” than After in most international markets, even with capacity restrictions in place and consumer uncertainty around the safety of theaters. (Other factors Deckter points to for After We Collided’s success compared to the first film are its R rating, versus After’s PG-13, and an increased fidelity to the source material.)
After We Collided did better than After in Russia, Spain, and the Netherlands, where it did three times the former film’s business. In the Czech Republic, it shared an opening week with Mulan, which it out-earned. In Germany, as of October 28 it was the second highest-grossing film to be released post-lockdown, trailing only Tenet. (Opening weekend admissions for After We Collided were higher than the Nolan film, though its gross was lower.) In Russia, its opening weekend admissions trailed those of Tenet by only 50,000; currently, in that market it’s the sixth-highest grossing film to come out since March, trailing three big-budget Hollywood titles (Tenet, Mulan, The Witches) and two local releases (Directly Kakha, Streltsov).
After We Collided’s marketing skewed heavily towards social media and was aimed at a target audience of teenage girls and young women. “We sort of took the opinion that, if we put [the film] out there, they’ll show up. Because they’re kids—they’ve been trapped at home for six months at this point,” says Deckter. “The desire, the need of these kids to go out and have social experiences via the movies—we were pretty confident that we would have something that fulfilled that need.”
An already-existing fanbase made getting the word out easier, helping to counteract the fact that the film has no stars who could be considered A-list. A substantial portion of that fanbase, says Deckter, was introduced to the franchise after the first film hit streaming. This was particularly true in the U.K., where After We Collided’s performance ($5,267,516 in US dollars as of October 28) Deckter highlights as one of the most pleasant surprises of the entire global run. That’s because After was a Netflix title in the U.K.; it didn’t screen in theaters at all.
For After We Collided in the U.K., the marketing campaign consisted entirely of unpaid social media posts, leveraging a fanbase that existed to that point largely around a Netflix title in order to activate a theatrical release. A call-to-action inviting fans to tag cinemas in posts requesting that they play the film generated “5,000 posts in an hour or something,” recalls Deckter. “And the U.K. was like, ‘OK, we get it! You can have some screens.’” As Deckter spoke to Boxoffice Pro, the U.K. was nearing the end of a second wave of shutdowns; he predicts that After We Collided will surpass the £4M mark by the time it hits Amazon Prime on December 22. “Zero to four million pounds is pretty amazing.”