Only 4 blockbusters cross $300 mil mark abroad

After a hearty 2004, international box office was hard-pressed to match the feat in 2005, tallying $12 billion in grosses to mark a 4% dip.

Contributing to that decline: Just four blockbusters topped the $300 million line abroad in 2005 compared with seven in 2004.

Foreign biz stumbled slightly less dramatically than Stateside as distributors saw double-digit declines hit key international markets such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain, while the U.K. and Japan saw relatively little change.

The $12 billion figure, a preliminary estimate from 20th Century Fox, includes Hollywood majors, indie distribs and local producers around the world but excludes local product in China and India. The Fox study was performed last year for the first time by Joe Ortiz, exec director of sales administration for Fox Intl., and showed a stunning 23% hike in international receipts to $12.5 billion for 2004.

The majors — Disney’s BVI, Warner Bros., Fox, Sony and UIP, which handles Universal, Paramount and DreamWorks — took in the lion’s share of 2005 foreign box office with $7.96 billion, down 6.5% from 2004’s record-setting total of $8.5 billion.

With New Line ($281 million) and Miramax ($243 million) folded in, Hollywood studios’ 2005 total amounts to about $8.5 billion, down 7% from $9.2 billion in 2004.

Well-known franchises worked best in 2005, with “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” easily winning the top two spots with nearly $1 billion combined.

Family-friendly tentpoles like “Madagascar,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” were winners in virtually every territory, too.

The number of films going past $100 million in foreign grosses in 2005 slid from 25 to 23. The 2005 club included a trio of pics that generated downbeat domestic results: “The Island,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”

But several major projects failed to make it to the nine-figure mark, including a quartet of Sony titles: “The Legend of Zorro,” “Bewitched,” “Stealth” and “XXX: State of the Union.”

Two key reasons for the overall decline: simple currency translation, as a stronger dollar meant fewer bucks returned to Hollywood coffers, and a down year for strong local films in several Euro markets. But execs also admitted they were troubled by the twin impacts of piracy and growing competition from vidgames, TV and other distractions.

“It’s too early to say that people have stopped going to the movies,” noted Sue Kroll, co-president of Warner Bros. Intl. “The decline isn’t predictive of a trend. The world is more complicated than that.”

Execs noted it’s not all doom and gloom if the situation’s examined over a longer period, noting that the 2005 total of $7.96 billion for the seven top studios represents an 11% gain from 2003.

“The fact is that 2004 was an exceptional year,” said Mark Zucker, senior exec VP of Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. “There’s not an industry on the planet that doesn’t go through fluctuations like this.”

Warner easily won the box office title with $1.89 billion and six films grossing more than $100 million: the fourth Potter pic, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Batman Begins,” “Ocean’s Twelve,” “The Island” and “Constantine.” Studio, which has been the best performer in four of the last five years, saw foreign grosses decline 9% from 2004’s record-setting $2.19 billion but well ahead of the $1.63 billion take in 2003.

Fox came in second with $1.6 billion, up 31% thanks to “Sith,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Fantastic Four” and “Robots.”

BVI followed in third with $1.33 billion for its third-best year ever and closed 2005 impressively with “Narnia” outperforming “King Kong.” Still, the Disney figure was down 22% from 2004 and 29% from its record-setting $1.88 billion in 2003.

UIP’s totals hit $2.26 billion — $913 million for DreamWorks, $763 million for U and $529 million for Par — to give the soon-to-be-dismantled distrib its best year ever. DreamWorks took in another $84 million in non-UIP markets; Paramount’s take nearly doubled from 2004 thanks to “War of the Worlds.”

Sony saw 2005 grosses slide 32% to $826 million as its only success story played out early in the year when “Hitch” surprised the world by becoming an international hit, eventually eclipsing its domestic gross.

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