‘Star Wars’ hits int’l zenith

O'seas mints $145 million

It really is a “Star Wars” world.

Opening in a total of 105 foreign countries and 114 markets with over 10,000 playdates, “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” obliterated the international record with $144.7 million in its first five days, with most markets opening Friday. That figure eclipsed by $15 million the foreign launch record set in 2003 by “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

The massive launch for “Sith” underscores the ongoing shift in studio strategy to treat international and domestic as a single market for major releases. Move is driven by the desire to take advantage of increased multiplexing in overseas markets and the need to close the window on pirating as tightly as possible.

“Sith” started with $38.4 million on Wednesday and Thursday from a combo of openings and previews, followed by $28.7 million on Friday (which included 12:01 a.m. launch showings in many territories), $41.5 million on Saturday and $36 million on Sunday. European grosses eclipsed $100 million; “Sith” set single-day records in Belgium, Bolivia, Ecuador, Germany, Holland, Hungary and Puerto Rico and opening weekend marks in Chile and Peru.

Biggest int’l rollout

It was also the biggest international rollout in both numbers of screens and territories, with only South Korea (next Thursday) and Japan (July 9) holding off on launching “Sith.”

By going as wide as possible, Fox Intl. took advantage of the worldwide recognition of the previous five “Star Wars” films — which have cumed $1.8 billion domestically and $1.6 billion on the foreign side. And Fox execs said Sunday that they believe “Sith” can keep generating impressive grosses in coming weeks even after the initial frenzy over the final “Star Wars” film wears off.

“It’s such a crowd-pleaser,” noted Paul Hanneman, exec VP of international sales and strategy. “People who have seen it are buying tickets again, and the word of mouth worldwide is excellent. We think we have a real winner in terms of playability.”

The “Sith” launch also kick-started worldwide moviegoing following what had been a lackluster stretch over the past two months except for Fox’s recent launch of “Kingdom of Heaven.” With rival distribs folding their tents for now, “Kingdom” generated the only other significant biz during the frame with $13.5 million at 6,000 playdates for a three-week cume of $131.7 million.

$26.8 mil in U.K.

The U.K. turned in the best offshore performance for “Sith” with $26.8 million at 485 playdates in four days — on a par with last summer’s record-setting launch of “Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban,” which cumed $43.7 million at 535 in its first week.

French patrons showed massive support for “Sith” with $22.3 million at 938 playdates in five days, which bests the $17.7 million for “Azkaban” as biggest ever for a U.S. release.

Germany generated $17.9 million at 1,182 in four days — similar to the $22.6 million at 1,337 engagements for first five days of “Return of the King” but short of the record weekend opening of $21 million from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Wednesday night previews and Thursday’s opening day showings attracted a record 705,348 viewers, generating an estimated $6 million in the wake of Tuesday’s glitzy Berlin premiere with George Lucas, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman and Christopher Lee attending.

Australia took in the fourth-highest total with $10.4 million at 535 playdates, Fox’s largest non-holiday opener for that market. Spain’s four-day “Sith” gross hit $9.9 million at 495 sites, followed by Mexico with $6.6 million at 914, Russia with $4.4 million at 370 and Italy with $4.3 million at 681. China checked in with $2.7 million at 317 screens and Holland pulled down $1.9 million at 115.

Doubles ‘Clone’ bow

“Sith” took in more than double the 2002 day-and-date opening of “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” which grossed $69.1 million at 5,854 playdates in 72 territories in its launch frame on its way to a $339 million foreign cume. In 1999, “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” didn’t open internationally until three weeks after the domestic debut, then grossed $492 million overseas.

“Sith” isn’t likely to challenge the all-time worldwide record of $1.83 billion set by “Titanic,” but the strength of its launch gives it a realistic chance at finishing near $1 billion worldwide. The only other film to have topped the 10-figure mark is “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” with $1.12 billion, followed by “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at $967 million and “The Phantom Menace” at $923.1 million.

Other than “Sith” and “Kingdom,” offshore business was light. UIP’s “The Interpreter” grossed $2.7 million at 1,925 playdates in 31 territories to lift foreign cume to $60 million, led by $13 million in the U.K. and $8.5 million in Germany.

BVI’s “The Pacifier” took in $2.2 million at 2,385 screens to push its offshore total past $58 million, and its “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” grabbed $1.5 million at 741 to lift its five-market cume to $25.6 million, including $18.2 million in the U.K. The trailer for “Guide” has been attached to “Sith” in many markets where “Guide” will launch in June and July.

Sony opened “Closer” in Japan with $900,000 at 200 playdates, pushing the international cume to a solid $78 million.

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