Biz boffo at o’seas B.O.

Final figures are not tabulated yet but are likely to show that the U.S. majors collectively reaped more theatrical revenues overseas in 1993 than at home.

It was a banner year for most of the Hollywood studios as their combined revenues from offshore markets climbed well above 1992’s. With the exception of Fox, the Hollywood majors all experienced significantly higher foreign than domestic box office growth in 1993.

For the second year running, Warner Bros. pulled off the big double play: Top single studio at the domestic and overseas B.O.

The unprecedented harvest wasn’t due simply to Steven Spielberg’s rampaging dinosaurs, Kevin Costner romancing Whitney Houston and the Robert Redford/Demi Moore/Woody Harrelson menage a trois.

The largesse was spread around a diverse range of pictures as a raft of comedies, dramas and fantasies all proved stronger draws offshore.

“I think foreign revenues exceeded domestic for the first time in a very long time,” opined Michael Williams-Jones, president/CEO of United Intl. Pictures, which distributes Universal, Paramount and MGM/UA product overseas.

Daily Variety expects the majors’ 1993 rentals outside the domestic market to hit $ 1.79 billion, easily surpassing 1992’s $ 1.261 billion. Daily Variety also asked the distributors to give their estimate of how they performed in 1993 — numbers that do not necessarily equate with Daily Variety’s calculations.

WB smashed the $ 1 billion barrier in foreign grosses for the first time, amassing $ 1.1 billion. That beat the studio’s domestic box office by about 19% and puts the distrib’s global B.O. tally at some $ 2 billion.

It was a record year overseas too for Universal, Columbia TriStar Intl. and the Walt Disney Studios. Despite the distractions of the drawn-out battle for control of Paramount, that studio had its second-best year, behind its 1990 peak.

A change of regimes at 20th Century Fox interrupted the product flow but the studio was satisfied to wind the year slightly up over 1992.

And with “Mrs. Doubtfire” giving the studio an incandescent start to ’94, Fox Intl. president Walter Senior is sure he’ll top last year.

Alan Ladd Jr. wasn’t around to see the curtain drop on another febrile year for MGM/UA, but Frank Mancuso’s regime is busy resurrecting the once-mighty empire.

The contrast between domestic and international box office underlines the inexorable growth of distribution and exhibition abroad, and the fact that more and more films are doing better outside the U.S. There are a host of reasons, including cinema building in many markets, less intense competition, retooled marketing campaigns and variations in audiences’ tastes.

“We had a number of pictures whose substantial international performances exceeded their very good North American results or made up for an unpleasant, unexpected and in some cases undeserved shortfall in North America,” said Columbia TriStar Intl. president Ted Shugrue.

Shugrue cited the turnarounds in foreign by “Last Action Hero” (heading past $ 100 million gross), “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” ($ 110 million) and “Hero” ($ 47 million).

Final report cards

The following is the majors’ 1993 scorecard. For the purposes of this story, most films’ lifetime grosses, as opposed to their calendar-year figures, are listed to give a true indication of their results.

o WB Intl. clocked $ 1.1 billion gross, $ 450 million rentals overseas, according to the studio’s preliminary figures. “We’re proud to be the No. 1 studio for the second year running and on a global basis,” said WB Intl. president Wayne Duband. Warner’s big guns were “The Bodyguard,” grossing $ 247 million; “The Fugitive,”$ 170 million; “Sommersby,”$ 90 million; “Under Siege,”$ 73 million; “Forever Young,”$ 72 million; “Dennis the Menace,”$ 66 million; and “Made in America,”$ 60 million.

o The UIP group grossed $ 1.5 billion, which factors out to about $ 600 million in rentals. Compare that to 1992’s $ 980 million B.O., $ 351 million rentals. (Daily Variety estimates that UIP generated better than $ 1.1 billion from titles coming strictly from the majors.)

Williams-Jones said Universal’s pictures grossed $ 860 million, driven largely by “Jurassic Park’s” phenomenal $ 530 million haul, plus strong contributions from “Death Becomes Her” ($ 47 million in 1993, $ 91 million total gross), “Scent of a Woman” ($60 million) and “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” ($ 21 million).

Paramount collared $ 500 million, according to Williams-Jones, from heavy-hitters “Indecent Proposal” ($ 160 million), “The Firm” (now at $ 102 million) and “Sliver” ($ 80 million to date). MGM managed only $ 30 million according to UIP.

UIP also garnered tidy sums from pickups for various territories that included “The Crying Game” and Italian, Mexican and Belgian productions.

o Columbia TriStar Intl. scored $ 768 million, which included $ 32 million from such acquisitions as “Fortress.” (It did not include Orion’s handful of releases.) That was the distrib’s fourth record year, eclipsing 1992’s $ 660 million.

It’s less than the Sony companies’ 1993 domestic B.O. haul of $ 863 million, but as Shugrue points out, there were considerable differences in the two entities’ release skeds.

Shugrue avers “A Few Good Men” will wind with about $ 95 million and “In the Line of Fire” at $ 80 million-$ 85 million.

o Buena Vista Intl. celebrated its first year as a stand-alone distrib after splitting from WB with a company record: $ 650 million gross, $ 290 million rentals.

The previous top was 1990’s $ 285 million rentals, the “Pretty Woman” year.

Its top titles were “Aladdin” ($ 220 million), “Sister Act” ($ 92 million in 1993, $ 137 million total), “The Jungle Book” ($ 64 million) and “Beauty and the Beast” ($ 49 million in calendar ’93, $ 203 million total).

o Fox Intl. had rentals of $ 188 million — or $ 290 million B.O. grosses — shading the previous year’s $ 173 million rentals. Senior declares that a good result considering “we did not have a lot of big product.” The studio’s standouts were “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” ($ 106 million in calendar year, $ 200 million gross overall, equating to $ 93 million rentals) and “Hot Shots! Part Deux” ($ 85 million B.O., $ 41 million rentals). The late 1992 release of the “Home Alone” sequel accounts for a disproportionately high rentals figure for the studio.

Professional optimists all, the majors are predictably bullish about their 1994 release skeds.

WB has only just begun to put “Free Willy” into foreign waters, and is looking forward to “The Pelican Brief,””On Deadly Ground,””Maverick,””Wyatt Earp ,””The Client,””Natural Born Killers,””Love Affair” and others.

The UIP stable’s roster includes “The Flinstones,””Clear and Present Danger, “”Schindler’s List,””The Paper,””Blown Away” and “Beverly Hills Cop 3.”

Col TriStar Intl. is positioning “Philadelphia,””The Remains of the Day” and in some markets “The Age of Innocence” in February for Oscar attention. Beyond that, the distrib is banking on “Wolf,””Just in Time,””Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,””Legends of the Fall,””Guarding Tess” and “The Money Train.”

Fox Intl. is unleashing “Baby’s Day Out,””Speed,””Bad Girls” and in a few markets the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “True Lies.”

Apart from the product, what else is new?

Don’t expect to see Fox lay off foreign rights to the more problematic movies , as happened frequently during Joe Roth’s tenure.

Bill Mechanic, who recently arrived from Disney to take charge, among other things, of Fox’s international film operations, is determined to build up the studio’s foreign business.

Mechanic’s adjustment

According to Senior, Mechanic thinks “we were badly served by selling rights to pictures, and he does not expect to make the kind of product that will have a big differential between domestic and foreign.”

Senior partly defends the previous policy by noting Roth got very good prices for the films he unloaded. Reflecting on the sell-offs, Senior admits to having second thoughts about only “The Last of the Mohicans” (offshore rights went to Morgan Creek) and even there, says: “If we were wrong, it was by an eyelash.”

Expect to see the majors continue to develop new territories.

The Sony software group, repping film, TV, video and music, plans to open an outpost in China. “This will help us to understand the territory,” says Shugrue.

Shugrue is very happy with his deals to distribute Buena Vista product in Latin America and Fox’s films in Belgium, Holland and Sweden.

The majors see the best growth markets as Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea (where the government has lifted the cap on importing prints), Indonesia and India.

“The foreign markets are expanding. I think we’re on the wave of a new golden age of cinema,” asserts Williams-Jones.

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