Pix brake for soccer

Studios fill gap with kid, femme fare

It won’t be quite like the iceberg hitting the Titanic, but international box office is on the verge of a month-long freeze.

The culprit is the World Cup, a soccer lover’s orgy of 64 matches in Germany, which kicks off June 9 and concludes on July 9.

For studios, it means mostly throwing the towel in on worldwide tentpole releases — if they’re aimed at males. Instead, the film distribbers have opted to spend the next month going after women and children.

“June’s a soft month in international markets anyhow,” notes Mark Zucker, president of Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. “Kids are still in school and many people’s vacations don’t start until July. It’s much different than in the U.S.”

Soccer matches have a long history of disrupting box office performance with the May 19 European Cup final between Barcelona and Arsenal being only the most recent example. The 2002 World Cup was a big distraction even though it was played in Japan and Korea; this time, the games will be in primetime in most of the world’s major moviegoing markets.

As a result, studios are largely avoiding competing directly against the World Cup in overseas markets.

That’s why May was heavily loaded with tentpoles — “Mission: Impossible 3,” “The Da Vinci Code” and “X-Men 3” — while June’s dominated by counter-programming such as “The Break-Up,” “The Omen,” “United 93,” “RV” and “Over the Hedge.”

The World Cup frenzy’s also why two more tentpoles — “Superman Returns” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” — won’t launch in key markets like France, Germany and Spain until after July 9.

Nonetheless, distribution execs are bravely noting that everyone won’t be watching soccer all the time, even if it feels that way.

“Yes, there are going to be nights when there are big matches involving that country’s team where box office is going to fall off the cliff,” admits Craig Dehmel, Fox Intl.’s VP of sales and strategy. “But there are also those other five or six nights a week.”

Fox saw its pre-Cup strategy pay off with an impressive $76 million foreign opening for “X-Men 3.” It’s also using the oddball tactic of opening “The Omen” remake on about 5,000 screens on Tuesday, June 6 to take full advantage of the “666” gimmick, hoping that women will be attracted to the offbeat entry rather than endlessly watching soccer.

UIP’s launching “The Break-Up” gradually rather than going day-and-date — a strategy that allows for adjusting marketing tactics and taking advantage of what’s expected to be robust U.S. business. It’s opening next weekend in Australia and New Zealand, followed by Russia and Holland on June 15, France and Belgium on June 21, Greece on June 22 and Brazil on June 30.

But UIP’s decided to hold off on “The Break-Up” for Germany, Spain, Italy and the U.K. until the late summer.

BVI finds itself in a tough spot with “Cars,” having tapped June 9 for its U.S. opening — the same date as the start of the Cup — so it will wait on most foreign markets until July and August.

“Normally June 9 would be a fantastic date for us to go day-and-date,” notes BVI prez Mark Zoradi. “But the Cup will be a huge distraction. It’s less expensive not to go day-and-date, plus we’ll have the benefit of a big U.S. opening.”

Sony’s Zucker is hoping that “The Da Vinci Code” will be a big beneficiary of the World Cup, reasoning that it’s the kind of film that attracts women later in its run.

“Females tend to be the quadrant that takes the longest to see a film and we’re going to be at a time when there aren’t any other big films to interfere,” he adds.

For the same reasons, Fox will be rolling out a pair of tween comedies, “Aquamarine” and “Just My Luck,” into many foreign markets during the Cup.

And for Warner Bros., the period represents the start of a salvage effort for its massive investment in “Poseidon” after a disappointing domestic run.

But even with that motivation, it’s also treading carefully, launching in the U.K., Italy, South Korea and Australia this weekend, June 14 in France and June 23 in Russia. It will wait in other major markets until after July 9.

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