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O’seas looks to ‘War’ for solace

Media backlash, good weather may hinder tentpole

NEW YORK — With international exhibs still savoring 2004’s lofty but anomalous box office returns — as opposed to this year’s more earthbound numbers — all eyes are on “War of the Worlds,” hoping it can deliver a taste of last year’s glory o’seas.

The international media has been exhibiting a backlash against its star’s offscreen exploits (such as a headline in the British Independent, “Why We Hate Tom Cruise”) and against the Paramount/DreamWorks day-and-date strategy (testy German crix lodged an official protest over having reviews embargoed for weeks after the screening).

But media reaction doesn’t always reflect audience taste. The bigger question for “War” overseas is summer weather that’s coaxing auds to stay outside theaters.

For “War,” B.O. pundits predict Japan, Russia, the Far East and Latin America seem like good bets. But the bigger question mark is Europe, the land of squirting microphones and high-altitude wedding proposals, which stands for close to 70% of the world grosses.

The pic of course has a number of factors in its favor, particularly with the international crowd. Despite receiving some rude treatment recently overseas, Cruise has little competish as the world’s biggest star.

And director Steven Spielberg is responsible for three of the 25 top-grossing pics internationally of all time: two from the “Jurassic Park” franchise and “E.T.”

Viacom co-prexy and co-chief operating officer Tom Freston said after the pic’s U.S. preem that he admired “War’s” echoing of 9/11 as subtext. The meshing of those dark themes with a sci-fi tentpole could be easier for overseas audiences to swallow.

And though rated PG-13 in the States, the pic includes some particularly gritty sequences that the European crowd in key territories may embrace.

There are always glitches. While some American biggies have been doing well overseas, “Batman Begins” has been having a tough time in Germany and “Revenge of the Sith” underperformed in Italy. Germans apparently don’t have the same nostalgia for superheroes as their American counterparts, while none of the “Star Wars” films has been boffo in Italy.

As for track records, Spielberg’s teaming with Cruise for “Minority Report” resulted in a $226.3 million take from overseas coffers.

The helmer and thesp are both coming off pics that did well, but not boffo, at the foreign wickets.

Cruise’s “Collateral” went to $116.6 million internationally, while Spielberg’s “The Terminal” flew to $140.8 million. Cruise’s “The Last Samurai,” before that, slashed $345.6 million, proving a major hit overseas and mild one at home. Spielberg’s previous effort was “Catch Me if You Can,” which caught $186.5 million overseas.

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