Int’l auds still hot for Harry Potter

Four titles join $400 milllion club overseas

Forget about franchise fatigue — at least in the international markets.

With the third best international opening weekend ever at $193 million, Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” has demolished the notion that franchise properties are destined to eventually run out of steam.

Instead, the summer of 2007 has shown something else entirely: that foreign moviegoers have a seemingly insatiable appetite for the familiar, as exemplified by the fifth “Potter” pic and the third versions of Sony’s “Spider-Man,” BVI’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” and Paramount/DreamWorks’ “Shrek.”

The foreign launch for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” represented the third time in 10 weeks that a film had blown past the $155 million opening mark set only a year ago by Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code.” “Spider-Man 3” opened with $232 million in its six-day opening; three weeks later, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” took in $216 million in its five-day launch frame and $245 million in its first six days.

“Phoenix” then managed to show weekday box office magic with $21.5 million in international takings on July 16, its first Monday, followed by $20.5 million the next day to close out its first week with an impressive foreign cume of $235 million. The U.K. led the way with $40.5 million as of July 17, followed by Germany with $23.1 million, France with $20.3 million, Australia with $16.9 million and South Korea with $15 million.

It’s too early to tell what kind of legs “Phoenix” will have in coming weeks, though the four previous “Potter” pics provide a telling signal — they’ve grossed a combined $2.4 billion overseas, representing the third-highest (“The Sorcerer’s Stone” at $651 million), fifth-highest (“The Chamber of Secrets” at $614 million), sixth-highest (“The Goblet of Fire” at $602 million) and the 12th highest (“The Prisoner of Azkaban,” $541 million).

“At World’s End” is now fourth on the list, trailing its predecessor (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” at $642 million) by less than $7 million as of July 17. “Spider-Man 3” is at No. 10, just shy of $550 million.

And in each case, those franchise films showed far more traction overseas than domestically. The second weekend of “Spider-Man 3” declined 50% internationally and 62% domestically; soph-sesh declines for the third “Pirates” amounted to 57% foreign and 68% Stateside.

The summer’s also seen “Shrek the Third” perform up to expectations internationally, albeit on a much more gradual basis as Par opted for a deliberate release outside the United States. As of July 17, the green ogre had cumed $366.5 million internationally, or 77% of the final foreign cume for “Shrek 2,” with the top contributions coming from the U.K. with $63.1 million and France with $38.9 million.

“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Shrek the Third” should become the 26th and 27th pics to hit the $400 million foreign milestone in a few more weeks — matching last year’s achievement of four films (“Pirates 2,” “Da Vinci,” “Ice Age 2” and “Casino Royale”) crossing that milestone in a single year.

At this point, it’s uncertain if there will be a fifth $400 million pic this year in the international markets. “Transformers” could have a shot with $156 million as of July 17 and openings still coming in the four biggest markets — France, Germany, Japan and the U.K.

Other than “Transformers,” nearly all of the summer’s overseas biz has come from franchise sequels — and not just the four mega-tentpoles, as Warner’s “Ocean’s Thirteen” and Fox’s “Live Free or Die Hard” and “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” had combined for nearly $400 million in international grosses so far.

That trio has performed in line with expectations, turning in solid rather than spectacular numbers. Those foreign takes have helped lift overseas box office for the six Hollywood studios by 13% over last year.

“Thirteen” has gone past $150 million overseas near the end of its run and won’t finish in the same range as “Ocean’s Twelve,” which took in $237 million outside the U.S.; “Live Free or Die Hard,” aka “Die Hard 4.0,” is halfway to matching the $260 million foreign cume from “Die Hard With a Vengeance” with Australia, Italy, South Korea and Spain not yet open; “Silver Surfer” is at 60% of the $175 million international for “Fantastic Four” with launches still to come in France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and Spain.

The July 13-15 frame wound up being one of the busiest on record. The top four pics — “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” “Transformers,” “Die Hard 4.0” and “Shrek the Third” — combined for $265 million. And five other films in more limited release (“Ratatouille,” “Ocean’s Thirteen,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and Japanese entries “Pokemon 2007” and “Monkey Magic”) topped $4 million each.

Notably, “Phoenix” set the U.K. B.O. alight with the best four-day opening ever — a whammo $33.4 million — and propelled overall grosses up 80% on the previous weekend frame.

A combo of conditions aided “Phoenix” in the U.K. — anticipation over the July 21 release of the seventh and final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” plus bouts of rain showers and the lack of major televised sporting events over the weekend. “Shrek the Third” withstood the Potter onslaught best in the U.K., declining 45% in its third frame, while “Die Hard 4.0” declined 60% in its soph sesh.

In Italy, “Phoenix” took $10.8 million in its first five days and prompted enthusiasm from Italo exhibitors over the gamble Warner took in releasing the Potter pic day-and-date in Italy in summer, when Italians usually desert movie theaters to hit the beaches. Over the Friday-Sunday frame, it took in 10 times the gross of the No. 2 pic, the third frame of “Transformers.”

In Germany, not even the hottest weekend of the year could slow the Hogwarts Express with $19.2 million for the year’s best start. It also took in 10 times as much as the No. 2 pic, the third frame of “Die Hard 4.0.”

“Phoenix” also delighted French auds with $17 million in its first five days — although even with blockbuster season hitting full stride, Gallic auds have not abandoned arty fare. “Persepolis,” the Cannes jury prize winner, dipped a respectable 43% in its third frame with a $5.3 million cume.

Archie Thomas in the U.K., Ed Meza in Germany, Nick Vivarelli in Italy and David Hayhurst in France contributed to this report.

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