Distribber rules the int'l B.O., hits record

SYDNEY — Skeletal pirates, animated fish and a deified Jim Carrey have propelled Disney’s Buena Vista Intl. to a company record and almost certainly spurred BVI to pole position in the majors’ overseas B.O. derby.

Through Sunday BVI’s films had grossed $1.35 billion abroad, beating the banner’s calendar year high of $1.319 billion in 1999.

This year is the ninth consecutive in which BVI has passed $1 billion — an unprecedented feat. Warner’s international arm has scaled that peak six times, Fox four, Sony three and Universal two.

BVI and WB will be locked in a tight race for line honors for the 2003 B.O. crown. Warner last reported its films had grossed $1.08 billion through the end of August. Since then, the studio has earned modest sums from “Matchstick Men,” Asian pic “Turn Left, Turn Right” and “The Matrix Reloaded” holdovers.

In the run home, BVI can count on a B.O. bonanza from “Finding Nemo,” which is yet to play in continental Europe and Japan. It’s launching “Brother Bear” in the U.K., Latin America and parts of Asia in December and releasing “Calendar Girls” and “Freaky Friday” in a bunch of markets.

Warner will be relying chiefly on “The Matrix Revolutions” which rolls out worldwide next month.

BVI prexy Mark Zoradi is shooting to finish the year at north of $1.7 billion. “It’s very heartening to break our record in our 10th anniversary year,” he said on Sunday. “We’ve been able to maximize this really good, diverse product, thanks to the strength and experience of our worldwide team.”

BVI’s top titles are “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” which has racked up $327 million; “Bruce Almighty,” with $202.6 million in BVI’s markets (plus an estimated $28 million in Spyglass’ territories); and “Nemo,” which has hooked $124.3 million.

Among its handy earners have been “The Jungle Book 2″ ($87 million, nearly double its domestic result) and “Treasure Planet” ($42 million this year of its lifetime $79 million cume).

Zoradi projects the fish tale will wind up with more than $400 million, based on its animation-smashing records in Asia and Latin America.

Some $105 million of BVI’s total comes from handling Miramax films.

Zoradi estimates the weaker euro vs. the greenback has inflated the studio’s results by a bit more than 10%.

While the total is impressive, BVI (along with other studios) has had to grapple with escalating marketing and print costs as saturation releases are becoming as much the norm overseas as at home.

But thanks to breakout hits “Pirates,” “Bruce” and “Nemo,” Zoradi said, “This is a very strong net (profit) year for us. When you have films like that, you can cap your marketing and print costs and the upside goes straight to the bottom line.”

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