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Inside Move: Fox awaits ‘Hidden’ costs

Lackluster ratings for subtitled pics could be problem

It’s no surprise that Sony Pictures Classics brass are rubbing their palms in giddy anticipation of which high treetop the domestic gross of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” will finally land.

That execs at Fox are watching it with equally keen interest is curious.

This is because Ang Lee’s quadruple Oscar winner initially was thought likely to gross somewhere around $30 million-$40 million, at least when Fox closed a deal for the TV rights in December. Under terms of that deal, Fox would pay the standard 15% of the domestic box office gross of “Tiger” (and of another Col pic, “Vertical Limit”) for rights to run the pics first on the Fox TV Network in fall 2003, then on the F/X cabler and then seesawing between the two networks for the life of the four-year deal. “Tiger” was thought likely to cost $5 million at the most.

But now, with Lee’s “Tiger” burning bright as the highest-grossing foreign-language film of all time (domestic B.O. gross is at $106.3 million and climbing), the “Hidden” cost to Fox looks likely to be at least $16 million. If the pic continues to steam to the $120 million mark — a real possibility — the pricetag could go as high as $18 million.

Of course, who’s coming out ahead here is a matter of speculation. Fox certainly has landed a winner, but subtitled pics usually go begging on the commercial TV market, with good reason: crouching ratings. It remains to be seen if a dubbed version of “Tiger,” which Fox has requested, will do any better than most foreign-lingo pics.

Meanwhile, insiders at Sony Pictures and at co-financier Good Machine Intl. confirm plans for an Ang Lee-helmed prequel to “Tiger” are being discussed in Taipei.

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