Post-Cup wickets surge abroad

It wasn’t just an excuse: The World Cup really did have an effect on worldwide B.O.

For the most part, studios had thrown in the towel on worldwide tentpole releases during the World Cup period between June 9 and July 9, opting for targeted releases aimed at women (“The Break-Up”) and children (“Cars,” “Over the Hedge”). The only true tentpoles available during the soccer tourney were holdovers: UIP’s “Mission: Impossible III,” Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

As a result, every major market saw a decline in biz compared with the year-earlier period. On the average, weekend admits fell 20% in the 15 key territories, led by a 54% fall in World Cup host Germany; Australia saw the smallest decline at 3%.

But offshore biz has surged back smartly since the tourney ended. During the five weekends since the World Cup ended, admissions in the 15 largest markets — representing 80% of international box office — have jumped 44% to 98 million from 68 million for films placing in the top 10 of each market, according to BVI. (Weekends usually account for 55% of overall foreign gross.)

The jump in biz, fueled by BVI’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” wasn’t a surprise.

Once the Cup ended, biz rose by an average of 10% during the next five weeks on a year-to-year basis, with Argentina, where “Dead Man’s Chest” has led for five straight weekends, posting the largest hike at 45%. France and Italy have been the only two markets to see declines from the same period of 2005, with France having had only two frames of “Chest” and Italy not due for its opening until Sept. 15.

“Overall, the market has rebounded very strongly from the soft period during the World Cup,” said UIP prexy Andrew Cripps. ” ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ has obviously been the driver in this and, certainly in Europe, better cinemagoing weather has contributed. Often it takes a major locomotive film to drive people back into the cinema, and ‘Pirates’ provided that, which clearly has benefited the overall marketplace.”

Despite the World Cup chill, overall international biz for the five Hollywood distribs (BVI, Fox, Sony, UIP, Warner Bros.) is on track to finish well ahead of last year at about $8.7 billion or $8.8 billion vs. $7.9 billion in 2005. Studios set a record in 2004 with $8.5 billion thanks to seven releases that topped $300 million.

Major soccer tournaments have a long history of disrupting box office performance. In this case, that trend became heightened as the games were played in primetime in most of the 15 biggest moviegoing markets — Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and the U.K. — and was further underlined as France, Germany and Italy went into the last week of the tourney as semifinalists.

Studios had loaded up the foreign box office in May with three tentpoles: “Mission: Impossible III,” “The Da Vinci Code” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.” The trio combined for close to $1 billion in overseas grosses, with over half of that ($532 million) going to “Da Vinci.”

The Tom Hanks thriller saw impressive openings and strong holdovers in its first three weeks overseas. By the time the Cup launched on June 9, it had grossed about $430 million internationally; it has pulled in slightly more than $100 million since from abroad.

Mark Zucker, president of Sony Pictures Releasing Intl., noted that “Da Vinci” managed to increase its grosses in northern European markets such as Benelux, Germany and Scandinavia once the Cup ended. Its worldwide gross has hit $750 million, with over 70% from international markets.

“Dead Man’s Chest” launched in only half a dozen foreign markets prior to the end of the World Cup. During the post-Cup period, it’s accounted for three of every 10 tickets sold in the 15 major markets.

“Chest” had hit $481 million internationally as of Tuesday, or about $50 million behind “Da Vinci.” The combined worldwide total for “Chest” is at $875 million, now 10th on that all-time list.

“The huge anticipation for this sequel coupled with the renewed cinemagoing appetite post World Cup created an ideal environment for our film to excel,” said BVI exec veep Anthony Marcoly.

Sony noted Tuesday that “Da Vinci” had managed to hold on to the opening weekend record for Spain of $11.2 million, or about $230,000 ahead of the launch for “Chest” last weekend. BVI originally estimated that “Chest” had set a record with $11.5 million.

The World Cup frenzy also led Warner Bros. to hold off its launch of “Superman Returns” in key markets such as France and Spain until after July 9. The Man of Steel has grossed a moderate $155 million overseas, with the last big push coming this weekend via launches in Germany and Japan.

Both periods of the summer saw decent performances from two CGI toons: BVI’s “Cars” and UIP’s “Over the Hedge.” Each is nearing $150 million overseas, with “Cars” still waiting for 30% of markets to open.

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