Yank summer invasion carries high expectations o’seas

SYDNEY There’s’s no surefire epic like “Jurassic Park” to light up cinemas around the world this summer, but overseas distribs and exhibs are still bullish about the range and diversity of the offerings — at least on paper: Most films aren’t finished yet.

“I don’t see that there will be any runaway blockbusters, but there are a lot of movies that should do good business,” says Hy Smith, senior VP of worldwide marketing for United Intl. Pictures.

Exhibs around the world are eyeing Disney’s “The Lion King,” Fox’s “True Lies” and more Westerns from Warner Bros., among many other possible hits.

“The Lion King” will roar through Asia, Latin America and South Africa in July, virtually day-and-date with the U.S. release. And for its African debut the animated film will be dubbed into Zulu, a first for Buena Vista Intl. BVI president Mark Zoradi figures the African-set saga will play better to the 7 million Zulus in their own language.

South African observers say that the novelty of a Disney film dubbed into Zulu is sure to appeal to both urban, educated Zulus (who speak English) and those in rural areas.

But “The Lion King” will face heavyweight competition from Hollywood, as well as from some local entries, for the mantle of king of the B.O. summer jungle.

“Maverick,””Beverly Hills Cop 3,””The Flintstones,””The Client,””Wolf,””Cop Tips Waitress $ 2 Million,””True Lies,””City Slickers 2,””Clean Slate, “”Thumbelina,””Bad Girls,””Guarding Tess,””Air Heads” and “Blue Chips” all will be stalking screens.

“The Lion King” is slated for July in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Latin America, because “that’s the best playing time” in those territories, says BVI’s Zoradi. He expects UIP’s “Flintstones” to be the most direct competition but insists, “I’m not worried — I know we have a big hit.” Zoradi thinks he’ll get more mileage from the animated pic in Europe by going in November.

BV’s summer entries include the Paul Hogan comedy “Lightning Jack” (which debuts March 31 in his native Australia via Roadshow), “Blank Check,””The Ref, “”Angie” and “The Air Up There.”

UIP’s Smith says: “The summer season in the U.S. isn’t necessarily the same as the summer in foreign, because you have quite different social habits overseas. Summer is a big B.O. season in the U.K.; July is slow in France because everyone is on vacation. Germany in summer is great for kids’ movies; Spain doesn’t come alive until August.”

Smith often prefers to have a gap between U.S. and foreign playoffs because that allows the talent to embark on publicity tours, a vital element in creating awareness.

Columbia TriStar plans to open “The Next Karate Kid” overseas close to the August U.S. release date — and two weeks ahead in some markets. “With sequels it’s easier (to go out quickly overseas) because you don’t have to build awareness,” says Col TriStar Intl. exec VP Tony Manne. “This is the fourth in the ‘Karate Kid’ series, and the last one did better internationally than domestic. We don’t have anything to gain by waiting at the expense of summer playing time,” Manne adds.

The Jack Nicholson starrer “Wolf,” also from Col TriStar, will roll out in Japan, Australia, Latin America and probably the U.K. during the northern summer , but the rest of the world will have to wait until September.

Over at Warner Bros., international president Wayne Duband figures he has a one-two-three punch with “Maverick” and “The Client” in summer and “Wyatt Earp” in early fall. Duband doesn’t categorize either “Maverick” or “Wyatt Earp” as genre Westerns, describing the Mel Gibson-Jodie Foster “Maverick” as a romantic comedy and the Kevin Costner vehicle “Wyatt Earp” as a “Godfather”-style saga — running 3 1/2 hours and spanning 55 years of the title character’s life.

In Italy, most majors aren’t convinced that enough cinemas have been air-conditioned to turn the hot months there into viable playing time. Last year some exhibs and distribs tried to extend the season into May and June by releasing a batch of titles — including “Falling Down,””Indecent Proposal” and “The Piano”– with mostly good results. WB is doing its bit to keep the wickets busy by opening “The Hudsucker Proxy” and “Wrestling Ernest Hemingway” in Italy after their Euro debuts at the May Cannes fest.

The Cinema 5 circuit will keep open its three multiplexes in Rome and one in Milan, unlike last year. “We’re looking at all sorts of promo campaigns (including) family discounts and programming some of the best films of the (previous) year if we’re short of product,” said circuit topper Gianni Della Casa. The exhib added that he expects a downturn in ticket sales during the World Cup soccer playoffs in the U.S., which run for one month from June 17.

The World Cup isn’t likely to be a factor in France and the U.K., whose teams did not qualify, say distribs.

But French exhibs are griping about a paucity of heavy-hitting Hollywood fare in July and August. “I don’t see any blockbusters for the summer,” says Gaumont programmer Francis Boespflug, blaming a shortage of completed films.

Indie distrib AMLF’s Jean Claude Bordes says the Julia Roberts-Nick Nolte starrer “I Love Trouble” may be ready for August. It will be a fall release in the rest of Europe via Buena Vista Intl.

UIP is launching “The Flintstones” in July in France. Comedies and family-oriented fare have the best chance in summer, according to a UIP exec. He notes it’s vital to reach vacationing audiences by holding open-air screenings at seaside and mountain resorts. One Gallic contender, Bertrand Tavernier’s swashbuckler “La Fille de D’Artagnan,” will bow in beach cinemas Aug. 10 and widen later that month.

Release skeds in Japan during the lucrative June-through-August period are crammed with U.S. product, as well as Japanese entries such as animated pic “Heisei Tanuki Senso Pompoko,” a live actioner about an eight-headed snake in ancient Japan, “Yamato Takeru,” and Shochiku’s “Rampo.” Nippon Herald unleashes the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “True Lies” in August and weepy “Shadowlands” in June.

UIP faces a marketing challenge in launching “The Flintstones” in Japan, where the characters aren’t known. That won’t be a problem in the U.K. and Australia, where the TV series was popular; the show was less popular in Germany and Austria. Distrib is arranging extensive promo tie-ins with McDonald’s in 31 territories to fan awareness.

In Germany, the summer lineup looks stronger than last year, which was a very good trading period, according to Andrea Bunting, booking manager of the UCI multiplex circuit.

Bunting thinks the season will kick off well May 26 with “Grumpy Old Men” and “Mr. Jones,” followed by “Lightning Jack,””Thumbelina,””The Flintstones,””True Lies, “My Girl 2” and “Beverly Hills Cop 3.”

But Bunting says the home-grown lineup is rather thin, with only the Thomas Heinze comedy “Women Are Something Lovely” (Frauen Sind Was Wunderbare) seeming to have a chance.

In Australia, a battle looms June 9 between “BevHills Cop 3” and “Maverick.”

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