U.S. champ also tops '96 o'seas B.O. race

Hollywood’s foreign B.O in ’96: $5.5 bil

The Hollywood studios collectively racked up $5.5 billion in overseas box office in 1996, a 5.9% lift on 1995’s $5.1 billion take.

The Walt Disney Co. pulled off the enviable double of being the No. 1 distrib at home and abroad, as well as becoming the first studio in history to clock more than $1 billion at overseas wickets for two consecutive years.

Buena Vista Intl. generated $1.091 billion in ’96 — a bit short of the domestic tally of $1.2 billion, where Disney harvested significant revenues from “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and “Up Close and Personal” (both handled by indies abroad), and as domestic clicks “Ransom” and “101 Dalmatians” kicked off their foreign seasons late in the year.

BVI’s performance last year was powered by “The Rock’s” $196.4 million, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s” $189.3 million and “Toy Story’s” $159 million. For the second year running, Germany was BVI’s top-grossing market, followed by the U.K., France, Japan and Spain.

It was also an all-time record for Fox, fueled largely but not solely by the runaway hit “Independence Day,” and for United Intl. Pictures, the Paramount-Universal-MGM combo, which posted $1.813 billion B.O., eclipsing 1994’s $1.653 billion.

Japan ranked as No. 1 for the UIP stable, while booming Australia vaulted from sixth spot to third, behind Ger-many. UIP’s crowd-pleasers were led by “Mission: Impossible’s” $270 million and “Twister’s” $253 million.

Fox was borne aloft by “Independence Day’s” $447.1 million, “Broken Arrow’s” $77.5 million and “Jingle All the Way’s” $51.5 million.

WB slips

The 1995 foreign champ, Warner Bros. Intl., slid off its pedestal, sans the benefit of WB’s domestic whirl-wind “Twister,” and handling a relatively skimpy 18 films (excluding local acquisitions). Warners scored nicely with “Eraser” ($130 million) and “Heat” ($80.4 million in its territories) but got moderate results from “Executive Decision” ($65.4 million) and “A Time to Kill” ($43.5 million). WB Intl. is looking to rebound with 30 titles on its slate this year.

Columbia TriStar Intl.’s dwindling fortunes mirrored Sony’s slump at home, but division president Duncan Clark expects a buoyant start in the new year with “Jerry Maguire,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “The Mirror Has Two Faces” and “The Devil’s Own” all in the first quarter.

The Turner labels ended what may have been their last year in Ted’s fold with mixed fortunes. New Line Intl. logged $284 million B.O. (off 18%), despite a resounding contribution from “Seven,” which earned $178 million of its $230 million in calendar ’95.

Castle Rock Intl. clocked a respectable $219.6 million, fueled by “Striptease’s” $80 million, “Forget Paris” at $36 million, $31.5 million for “The Shawshank Redemption” (for fiscal reasons, accounted for in 1996), and “Dolores Claiborne’s” $22.3 million.

On the down side

Meanwhile, the generally bullish mood at the overseas divisions has been tempered by the rapidly escalating costs of releasing and marketing films. The paradox of the exhib renaissance that’s transforming many markets across Europe, Asia and Latin America is that while ticket sales are rising, each distrib has to fork out more coin to service the growing spread of screens.

Although the majors are striving to capitalize on the exhib expansion and faster global communications with more day-and-date releases, that super-wide approach is compounding their financial pressures.

Ten years ago it cost about $8 million to release a big film overseas. Now the tab runs to $20 million or more. The foreign prints and ad-pub spend per film typically works out at 60% to 80% of domestic, says Fox Intl. president Jim Gianopulos.

The studios are responding to this fiscal squeeze by formulating various strategies.

Holding the line

“We’re looking at ways to hold distribution costs,” BVI president Mark Zoradi said. “We’re evaluating our spending levels in every market, and we’re going to be very diligent in our print buys to make sure every print brings in revenue. We’re also putting a major emphasis on third-party promotional tie-ins.”

At UIP, Paul Oneile, who took the reins as president and CEO from the retiring Michael Williams-Jones last November, is devising a blueprint to present to the co-venture’s partners within six months.

“We’re going to be a bit more efficient, entrepreneurial and aggressive in the way we promote and market our films. We’re going to bring in some good old razzmatazz,” he says.

Gianopulos says the various Fox divisions are working together closely to plot and analyze films as they progress from theatrical through the other windows. By coordinated planning and consultation with sister companies, he says his theatrical people can estimate the effects in ancillary markets of spending various amounts to release pic-tures.

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