International audiences save U.S. films

Titles that sputter at home win overseas

2006 saw the emergence of a new kind of tentpole film, driven by foreign performance with the U.S. market’s contribution no longer the dominant factor.

The year’s second-, third- and fourth-biggest films — “The Da Vinci Code,” “Ice Age: The Meltdown” and “Casino Royale” — took in more than 70% of their worldwide grosses outside the United States. Most tentpoles tend to take in about 50% to 65% of their worldwide grosses overseas, but that number is likely to grow in coming years.

Those successes don’t really fit with the previous profile of select films that have overperformed overseas, which generally trend toward historical epics such as “Kingdom of Heaven,” “The Last Samurai,” “King Arthur,” “Troy” and “Alexander.”

“Troy” is probably the most successful of the bunch. While its domestic performance came in at a solid $133 million, the combination of sword-and-sandal battles plus the star power of Brad Pitt drove worldwide grosses to half a billion dollars.

Tom Cruise’s turn in “The Last Samurai” also generated plenty of overseas heat, particularly in Japan, where its final $120 million gross topped the domestic number by $8 million.

Another oddball performer turned out to be “Die Hard: With a Vengeance,” which showed plenty of international pop with $265 million — far better than its domestic performance and a case study in why studios want stars so badly.

“The Island” proved a more recent overseas surprise. Domestic reception was tepid — $35 million — but foreign performance was nearly four times that amount, led by South Korea turning in a spectacular $22 million on its own.

Woody Allen’s “Match Point” offers another head-scratcher. The stylish thriller turned in an adequate $23 million domestically and more than $60 million overseas; curiously, Brits had little use for the London-set pic, but France, Italy and Spain offered solid biz.

British comedies have long shown more traction outside the U.S., with recent successes including “Bean,” the two “Bridget Jones” pics, “Love Actually,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Notting Hill.” “The Holiday” was the latest overperformer this past winter, with domestic grosses of less than $65 million and foreign more than double that.

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