'Batman' begins major int'l rollout

A correction was made to this article on June 15, 2005.

Amid sky-high expectations, Warner Bros.’ “Batman Begins” swoops into four international markets today and 67 more over the next three days with 8,000-plus playdates.

Following a massive worldwide promo campaign, the fifth installment of the “Batman” saga opens today in Belgium, France, Switzerland and the Philippines, followed Thursday by launches in Australia, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong and Singapore. Italy, Spain and the U.K. are the major markets opening Friday, followed by Japan on Saturday.

The day-and-date strategy — synching up the foreign launch with the domestic — is designed to maximize marketing efforts and the improved multiplex structure in offshore territories while minimizing piracy problems. The only markets not opening this weekend are South Korea, in which the pic will bow in the following frame, and Scandinavia, which is in the midst of Midsummer celebrations and where pic will launch in July.

Warner has staged five foreign premieres, starting with Tokyo in late May, followed by London on Sunday, Paris on Tuesday, Berlin tonight and Rome on Thursday with director Christopher Nolan and stars Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.

Warner Bros. prexy of international distribution Veronika Kwan-Rubinek said offshore exhibitors have been heartened by upbeat notices and the marketing of the film as a fresh take on the “Batman” saga. “We’re getting a lot of excitement over the notion that this is a completely new look at the franchise, eight years since our last Batman film,” she said.

Lackluster for blockbusters

“Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” has grossed around $350 million internationally, but foreign moviegoers haven’t supported any other film at a blockbuster level this year — unlike such 2004 entries as “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “The Passion of the Christ” and “Troy.”

The four previous “Batman” movies grossed a combined $540 million overseas, led by the $160 million B.O. for 1989’s “Batman,” followed by $153 million for “Batman Forever” (1995), $130 million for “Batman and Robin” (1997) and $104 million for “Batman Returns” (1992).

Those numbers were generated via a gradual release pattern, smaller cinema infrastructure and lower ticket pricing, so “Batman Begins” is likely to produce a far higher cume than its predecessors. Its only serious competition this weekend will come from the soph sesh of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” in 42 markets.

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