'Madagascar' edges out superheroes o'seas

When Fox claimed an international box office victory over the weekend for its superhero pic “Fantastic Four,” the chest thumping was premature.

Film was actually edged out by UIP’s “Madagascar,” meaning the animal toon pic topped all competish — including UIP’s “War of the Worlds” — for the second frame in a row, continuing to corral family biz in an action-heavy market. (Buena Vista Intl.’s “Herbie: Fully Loaded” and Warner Bros.’ “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” remain in limited release overseas.)

A Monday morning reversal of fortune hasn’t happened internationally since Buena Vista Intl.’s surprise Vin Diesel breakout “The Pacifier” proved to have edged out UIP’s political thriller “The Interpreter,” back in April.

That Fox, which has also had the muscle of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and UIP were the ones battling it out last weekend certainly seems apt in a summer when the two banners have been trading blows in what is proving to be a very finicky market. The two are the only banners that have passed the $1 billion mark in overseas B.O. this year.

Korean contribution

The tipping point for “Madagascar” to win the day came in part from South Korea, which was an Asian B.O. hot zone last weekend while Japan’s biz suffered thanks to the earthquake there.

South Korea, along with other territories, helped bump the estimated $20.3 million on the CGI-animated pic significantly, to $24.6 million, just edging out “Fantastic Four’s” actual return of $24.1 million from 5,017 playdates.

“Madagascar’s” cume is up to $190 million.

South Korea was also one of the few bright spots for Michael Bay’s “The Island,” as the film found disappointing results domestically.

Pic, which is being handled internationally by Warner Bros., racked up nearly $5.6 million from South Korea alone, nearly half of the film’s entire take in the States where it’s being handled by DreamWorks.

Warners conceivably missed out on some good biz in shaken Japan, which usually runs in similar patterns.

Experts said the strong Korean perf for the Ewan McGregor-Scarlett Johansson actioner came from the turf’s devotion to the genre and Warner’s aggressive marketing there.

But locals added the pic, about clones who discover they are harvest for humans, came along at the right time: Cloning is a hot topic of the moment in Korea.

Sweet biz

Warners, which took in $2.2 billion internationally in 2004 and hasn’t crossed the billion mark yet this year, also did well with Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” as it slowly rolls out.

“Fantastic” studio Fox was happy to find auds hungry for a superhero pic after Euro B.O. watchers began writing off the projects as perhaps too American. Warner Bros.’ “Batman Begins” has not performed up to expectations in some territories despite good reviews, word of mouth and dark themes, all of which tend to work heavily in a Hollywood pic’s favor overseas.

As for the Bat, particularly tough has been Germany, an economically challenged territory that is acting pretty prickly this summer.

Before giving the Bat the boot, Teutonic critics launched a formal boycott against UIP’s “War of the Worlds,” disliking its day-and-date embargo of reviews. And this week, major exhib chains are set to boycott BVI’s “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” due to an early DVD release in December (see story, page 1).

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