Studio closing in on market leader Sony Col TriStar

SYDNEY — The star power of Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise has helped propel the international theatrical arm of 20th Century Fox past the $1 billion B.O. milestone overseas.

Through Wednesday, Fox Intl.’s releases had amassed $1.071 billion, and the division is fast closing in on market leader, Sony Columbia TriStar Intl., which had racked up $1.123 billion through last weekend.

Fox Intl. theatrical prez Scott Neeson is shooting to finish the year at $1.2 billion- $1.3 billion. The run home for the U.S. majors looks to be a close thing, as execs at the international arms of Warner Bros., which had generated $959 million through Sept. 22, and Disney, with $735 million, both have $1 billion in their sights.

That would mean four studios will pass that threshold this calendar year — only the second time that has happened after WB, Fox, Disney’s BVI and Universal set the precedent in 1999 (Daily Variety, Sept 24).

The stellar perf of the Spielberg-Cruise blockbuster “Minority Report” is giving Fox a major boost. The sci-fi thriller has grossed $149 million and, with Japan set to open Dec. 7, Neeson is confident the pic will earn a further $50 million-$60 million by year end, en route to a total of around $250 million.

Neeson expects MGM’s James Bond opus “Die Another Day,” which Fox is releasing abroad, to pony up at least $120 million this year, and ultimately $250 million- $270 million.

The unit’s other hits include “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” ($335 million) and “Ice Age” ($197 million), plus handy contributions from “Shallow Hal” ($66 million), “Unfaithful” ($52 million) and “Road to Perdition” ($47 million).

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