American tourists visiting Europe this summer ought to feel right at home when they gaze at cinema marquees. Theater districts in many cities could look like Main Street USA.

Like their U.S. counterparts, European exhibitors are looking for blockbuster business from “Jurassic Park,””Cliffhanger,””The Last Action Hero,””Super Mario Bros.” and “Hot Shots Part Deux.”

Keeping a safe distance from those big guns, distribs are maneuvering to position a raft of other U.S films, many aimed at the youth market, which comprises the bulk of summer cinemagoers.

“Summer is as important overseas now as it is domestically,” says Columbia TriStar Intl. exec VP Tony Manne.

Launch dates in foreign are moving ever closer to domestic in some cases. According to Manne, this has the advantage of turning big pictures into a “worldwide phenomenon,” beating the pirates in such markets as Southeast Asia and maximizing the summer playing time.

There will be a brief interval between the U.S. and first wave of foreign openings of such titles as “Dennis the Menace,””Made in America,””Guilty as Sin” (formerly “Beyond Innocence”), “Son-In-Law” and “Indian Summer.”

“Son of the Pink Panther,” Blake Edwards’ bid to turn Italo superstar Roberto Benigni into a reincarnation of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, will start rolling out in Europe in July ahead of the Aug. 20 U.S. preem.

“We want the best playing time for kids,” explains Hy Smith, exec VP worldwide marketing for United Intl. Pictures.

The race to lock up the most coveted cinemas and playdates in Europe this summer isn’t over.

“There is a lot of jockeying (between distribs). We’re all looking at each other, and going earlier or later (than the heaviest competition),” says David Gross, 20th Century Fox Intl. VP marketing and distribution.

Exhibs have mostly fond memories of last summer’s crop, which included “Lethal Weapon 3,””Wayne’s World,””Batman Returns,””The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,””Universal Soldier,””Beethoven” and, running on from the spring, “Basic Instinct.”

Optimism high

Most tradesters rate this season’s entries as potentially stronger and even more star-studded.

“All the (major) films are placed well, and all have an opportunity to attract customers and run on,” says Stan Fishman, booking director of the Rank Odeon chain.

“Summer looks good and the fall is extremely good. It’s two years since we’ve seen such good product coming out of Hollywood,” enthuses Per Tenjblad, exec VP of Sweden’s Svensk Filmindustri. Tenjblad contrasts this season’s burgeoning lineup with last summer’s, which had the Svensk chain scraping by with a mere 13 U.S. releases, and summer 1991’s grand total of 30.

“We have a lot of films — it should be a good summer,” says French exhib Stefane Parthenay of Gaumont. He expects Columbia TriStar to unleash either “Cliffhanger” or “Last Action Hero,” and among the firm titles are “Super Mario Bros.,””The Assassin” (“Point of No Return”), “Robocop 3,” the “Bambi” reissue, “A Far Off Place” and “Teenage Ninja Turtles III.”

Unlike last season when there were no strong French releases, this time Parthenay is bullish about Bertrand Blier’s “One Two Three Sun,” Gerard Oury’s comedy “First For Gold” and Pierre Richard’s “The Run of Mad People.”

Italian exhibs’ pleas to distribs to end the traditional summer famine by releasing commercial product are starting to get a response. “Falling Down” and “Mad Dog and Glory” will open late May after being launched at the Cannes Film Festival and ought to run through early summer.

“There is a completely different attitude by some distributors. Last year no one was willing to chance it,” says Sandro Pierotti of the dominant Cinema 5 loop.

August bounty

However, not everyone is savoring this summer or at least the early part. Some exhibs gripe that they’ll have to wait until August or later for the most potent titles.

May through July are the worst months of the year in Spain, contends Jose Batlle, chief exec of the 65-screen Cinesa loop.

“If anything, it’s getting worse. Distributors generally avoid releasing good movies until August,” says Batlle.

There was a similar beef from the United Cinemas Intl. multiplex circuit in Germany. “June and July look very poor,” says UCI Germany topper Raymond Smith. “We have already sent out alarm signals to distributors.”

Those distress calls may be heeded. Warner Bros. has just booked July dates for “Dennis the Menace” and is planning a late summer start for “Made in America.”

“We don’t want to go directly against the three or four big pictures,” says Gary Hodes, WB Europe director of sales.

Buena Vista Intl. moved “The Adventures of Huck Finn,””Guilty As Sin” and “Indian Summer” into July in Germany. “We saw an open period so we decided to go in,” says BVI president Mark Zoradi.

UIP is launching “Jurassic Park” in the U.K., Japan, Korea and Latin America in July, and in Israel in August. The rest of Europe will have to wait until the fall for Steven Spielberg’s opus.

Smith says there would not have been time to prepare dubbed versions to open this summer in Europe given the original June 25 U.S. date. The domestic preem subsequently was moved up to June 11, but too late to advance the Euro debuts.

UIP’s summer offerings include “Cop and a Half,””Benny & Joon,””Fire in the Sky,””Indecent Proposal,””Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” and, in some territories, “Sliver.”

Columbia TriStar’s Manne says of his summer releases, “We’re still tinkering but the general plan is pretty much in place.”

“Last Action Hero” starts rolling out overseas in July. Columbia TriStar has Carolco’s “Cliffhanger” in about half the world, including France, Germany, Spain and Scandi, and has mapped out release dates from late June through October.

“Our hope is that the big films won’t come out on top of each other and thus cannibalize the market,” he says.

BVI is aiming to boost Don Johnson’s stature in Europe by launching two of his films this summer: “Guilty as Sin” and “Born Yesterday.”

Fox believes it will clean up with the season’s only high-profile comedy, “Hot Shots Part Deux.” The original generated a juicy $ 50 million in film rentals overseas.

“With sequels and big event pictures that are right for the season, it makes sense to go very fast (globally),” says Fox’s Gross. But he argues that the top priority in plotting releases must be the needs of each market, and that with lesser-known pix it can take two or three months after the U.S. release to build awareness overseas.

Fox has “Ninja Turtles 3″ going wide in July to grab school kids.

“It’s a great time to be an exhibitor,” says Manne, noting the growth of multiplexes means many operators can now accommodate all the choice titles.

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