It was the studio with the animated lion that roared loudest overseas last year.

Buena Vista Intl. wound 1994 as king of the B.O. jungle outside North America, completing a double record for the Disney studio, which also seized the domestic crown.

On the swings and roundabouts of the international marketplace, it was a record year, too, for Paramount, while 20th Century Fox and MGM/UA were on an up curve.

Without a “Jurassic Park,” Universal did well to nearly match the previous year. Mirroring the studios’ declining market share in the U.S., Warner Bros. Intl. and Sony’s Columbia TriStar Intl. both dipped from their 1993 highs.

But underscoring the growing clout of the international marketplace, the foreign arms of WB, Universal and Sony all racked up bigger grosses than their domestic counterparts.

No fewer than five films each accumulated more than $200 million B.O., and six clocked in excess of $100 million (see chart). New Line’s “The Mask” joined the $100 million club in early January, and “The Specialist” is knocking on the door.

BVI took line honors, posting $962.7 million in gross receipts, $418 million in rentals, a king-size jump over 1993’s results of $650 million and $290 million respectively.

To be sure, “The Lion King” accounted for a big slab of the studio’s overseas earnings with a calendar year gross of $358.2 million. But countering the oft reported notion that the Mouse House struggles to duplicate its animation success in live action, BVI benefited from significant contributions by four titles with all-human casts.

“Cool Runnings,” “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” “When a Man Loves a Woman” – perhaps the year’s biggest overseas sleeper – and “The Three Musketeers” all generated tidy sums.

Leftover gross

BVI also had the genie working as its 1993 click “Aladdin” hauled in $50.9 million in 1994.

“It was our second consecutive record year since we became a stand-alone operation,” said an elated BVI president Mark Zoradi. “I attribute that to a great lineup of films and to tremendous hard work and effort by the BVI worldwide team.”

WB Intl. came second with $870 million gross, $360 million rentals, down from the previous year’s peak of $1.1 billion and $450 million, respectively.

Universal was next, grossing $850 million – creditably not far short of 1993’s dinosaur inflated $860 million.

Paramount wound with $600 million B.O. – a record eclipsing 1989-1990’s high (when “Ghost” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” reigned), and a big turnaround on 1993’s $500 million.

After four consecutive records, Sony’s Columbia TriStar Intl. could not maintain the pace, sliding from $768 million to $514 million in 1994. (Distrib does not disclose rentals).

“We had a slower period than I would have liked, but the worst is behind us,” said Col/TriStar Intl. prexy J. Edward Shugrue.

Fox Intl. finished with $481 million B.O., $220 million rentals, a healthy upswing on 1993’s tallies of $290 million and $188 million.

The studio with the famous lion, MGM/UA, trailed with $55 million B.O.; at least that was an improvement on 1993’s $30 million.

Disney’s overseas total was a shade under the unprecedented domestic high mark of a little over $1 billion, but that’s explained mostly by differing release slates. For example, Disney has domestic rights to all of Cinergi’s pictures, but internationally only has Latin America; “The Santa Clause” will be a Christmas ’95 offering overseas (except in Australia, where it slid down the chimney in November 1994).

A domestic vs. foreign comparison for MGM/UA doesn’t mean much because the distrib does not have overseas rights to its biggest earner of last year, “Stargate.”

The combined weight of Par, Universal and MGM/UA gave United Intl. Pictures, their overseas releasing arm, a record year.

UIP president/CEO Michael Williams-Jones reported total grosses of $1.65 billion, $640 million rentals, beating the previous year’s $1.5 billion and $600 million.

UIP released more than 60 non-studio pickups in various territories, grossing $125 million. They were an eclectic assortment of many nationalities, including “The Crying Game,” “Shadowlands,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” Aussie pix “Strictly Ballroom” and “The Sum of Us,” and product from Spain, Italy, France, Belgium and Norway.

There were dramatic shifts in the value of some major markets last year. Japan, traditionally Hollywood’s No. 1 territory outside of North America, has been dislodged.

For the first time Japan slipped to second, overtaken by Germany as UIP’s top revenue earner, according to Williams-Jones. “Japan is the toughest, most unforgiving market in the world – it’s totally hit-driven,” he said.

The rest of the pecking order for UIP was the U.K., Spain, France, Australia, Italy ailing at No. 7, Mexico, Korea and Taiwan.

Zoradi says France was BVI’s No. 1 territory, due mostly to the payoff from “Lion King.” Japan ranked third for BVI behind Germany. Zoradi opines, “There’s still room for midrange pictures in Japan,” citing “Cool Runnings” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.”

The majors are bullish about further growth potential of overseas markets. “The increase in admissions is being driven by theater development worldwide, especially in Asia, and by the emerging markets, ” says Zoradi.

Hot spots

“Asia is where it’s all happening,” said WB Intl. president Wayne Duband. “Markets like Indonesia and China are expected to grow at a rapid rate; the question is: How far can they go?”

“We’re very close to the crossover year” when foreign will consistently outrun domestic, said Fox Intl. president Jim Gianopulos.

“The studio is ramping up production. We’re investing more in our distribution system in expectation of an increased production flow and more (production) units. From 13 to 14 titles a year, we’ll be handling 25. We may have to augment our marketing and distribution staff,” he said.

More partners

Gianopulos says Fox is looking to form some strategic partnerships like the newly minted co-venture with UGC in France. “This isn’t being driven by any need to find a roommate to share the rent, although there will be some efficiencies. We’re looking to increase our market presence.”

Fox is about to name a distribution exec stationed in Hong Kong as regional manager. That person will develop cross promotions with stablemate Star TV and act as Fox’s point man to launch distribution in China.

The trade dispute between the U.S. and China over copyright protection has stalled the majors’ moves into China. Sony has installed Mischka Chen as VP, China, in Beijing to supervise all its entertainment interests there. He’ll be joined by two theatrical execs by midyear.

“We have the broad framework of an agreement (with China Film Import and Export); there are just a couple of sticking points to be ironed out,” said Shugrue.

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