'Potter' helps push cume to $1.3 bil

A double dose of the boy wizard has rocketed Warner Bros. past Sony into pole position at the overseas B.O. — and it looks sure to take line honors for 2002.

Through last Sunday, Warner Bros. releases had amassed an estimated $1.309 billion abroad, overtaking Columbia TriStar Film Distributors Intl., which has racked up a company record of $1.286 billion.

The Sony division has just about run its race with no major pics slated for the rest of this month, so the fast-finishing 20th Century Fox Intl. looks set to end the year at No. 2.

Fox’s films have earned $1.262 billion, including about $150 million from MGM’s releases, which it handles abroad — primarily “Die Another Day.” Fox Intl. theatrical president Scott Neeson believes his division will grab at least another $80 million in December, chiefly from the 007 pic and “Minority Report,” which just opened strongly in Japan.

WB’s total B.O., including films handled in territories controlled by its co-producer partners Village Roadshow and Bel Air, is $1.339 billion. So the studio is on course to beat last year’s high mark of $1.34 billion and post the second-highest gross internationally, behind Fox’s $1.9 billion in 1998.

“We’re thrilled,” Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, president of international distribution and Sue Kroll, prexy of international marketing, told Daily Variety on Monday.

Warner’s stellar year has been book-ended by the two “Harry Potters.” The first “Harry” earned $192.4 million of its $658.2 million cume in this calendar year. Through last weekend, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” had unlocked $289 million, and the Warner execs say it’s tracking 18% ahead of the original.

WB Intl. has surpassed $1 billion five times, including three of the past four years. Among its other blockbusters this year were “Ocean’s Eleven,” which cruised to $255.6 million, and “Scooby-Doo,” which did $119.5 million.

Disney’s Buena Vista Intl. is on track to hit $1 billion next week, which would make this year the eighth consecutive in which it’s passed that milestone — an unprecedented feat.

That will mean four majors have each topped $1 billion this year. It’s only the second time that’s happened; WB, BVI, Fox and Universal set the precedent in 1999.

United Intl. Pictures, repping Universal, Paramount and DreamWorks, expects to reach $1.1 billion by year’s end, a cyclical downturn after its 2001 company record $1.9 billion.

UIP president Andrew Cripps says his studios generated seven $100 million-grossing titles last year and just two this year — “A Beautiful Mind” and “Red Dragon,” which snared $89.7 million and will cross $100 million after it opens in Japan in February, if not before.

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