‘Potter’ shines brightly overseas

'Transformers' triumphs at foreign box office

Hollywood has taken full advantage of the absence of soccer this summer in international markets.

Tentpoles have been dominating foreign biz, with the third versions of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Spider-Man” combining for nearly $1.2 billion, and the third version of “Shrek” closing in on $400 million. Four other pics — “Transformers,” “Live Free or Die Hard,” “Ocean’s Thirteen” and “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” — were also joining the $100 million club overseas.

That’s in sharp contrast with the same time a year ago. For the most part, studios threw in the towel on worldwide tentpole releases during the World Cup period last year, opting for targeted releases aimed at women (“The Break-Up”) and children (“Cars,” “Over the Hedge”) and holdovers such as “Mission: Impossible III,” Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

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

But without the World Cup to distract moviegoers, overseas biz boomed during the past five sessions. During the July 6-8 frame, for example, “Transformers,” “Live Free or Die Hard” and “Shrek the Third” combined for $125 million — dwarfing the same frame of 2006 (during the World Cup final), when the launch of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “Over the Hedge” and “Cars” combined for $81 million.

That kind of performance kept international biz for the Hollywood studios far ahead of last year’s record-setting pace — somewhere in the range of 13% better — when the six majors wound up with $8.6 billion in foreign coin.

And on July 11, moviegoing received another joyful jolt as the first numbers for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” began rolling in with a stunning $29.2 million first-day total.

French fans supported the fifth “Potter” pic with an impressive $5.9 million, the second highest opening day of all time in that market, pushing the French cume for the series to $204 million. Germany ($3.6 million), Italy ($3.1 million) and Spain ($2.6 million) all launched impressively with the Italian mark the second biggest opening day ever.

The early Asia/Pacific numbers also looked impressive, led by $1.5 million in Australia and $1.3 million in South Korea. Brazil’s $1.5 million opening day was the second biggest for that market while Holland with $980,000 and Belgium with $780,000 both set first day records.

Those early results portend that “Phoenix” is headed toward the same territory as the other four “Potter” pics — particularly with the July 21 release of the final book in the series “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” further fueling interest. “Phoenix” is only the second film in the series to launch in the summer, along with “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” — the lowest foreign grosser, with $540 million.

But perhaps the most impressive summer performer has been “Transformers,” which is the only nonsequel tentpole (along with Fox’s “The Simpsons Movie,” opening July 27). As of July 10, “Transformers” foreign grosses had already hit $107 million in 29 markets, with the U.K., France, Germany and Japan yet to open.

“Transformers” has been sensational in South Korea, with $31.5 million in its first dozen days — recalling that market’s impressive support for Michael Bay’s last film, “The Island,” with $22 million, by far the best international result.

The actioner also turned in impressive numbers in Russia, with $8.9 million in its first week, and in Italy, with $7.1 million in its first dozen days. In its second Italo frame, “Transformers” easily nabbed the lion’s share — nearly four times the No. 2 pic, the fourth weekend of “Silver Surfer.”

Still, with no new Hollywood tentpoles and the sunny clime making beaches irresistible, Italo box office sunk to a 2007 low of $3.4 million. Hip-hop romp “Stomp the Yard” limped to take $304,602 on 250 via Sony, debuting in third place; Paris-set horror flick “Catacombs” scared up a scarce $128,000 on 93 via Eagle Pictures for the fifth slot in its first outing.

Germany was also bereft of new pics as overall biz dropped 35% from the previous frame. “Live Free or Die Hard” (known locally as “Die Hard 4.0”) held onto the top spot in its second week, dropping 47% to $4 million on 727 and cuming $14 million for Fox.

“Bruce Willis still has plenty of fans here, young and old,” opines one local exhib. “There’s a nostalgic factor with the ‘Die Hard’ movies, but the new film is also attracting a lot of young viewers who are catching their first ‘Die Hard’ on the bigscreen.”

Continuing to show strong staying power with just a 37% slide, “Shrek the Third” followed with $3 million toward a $19.5 million total in its third frame. The green ogre had cumed $335 million overseas as of July 10, led by $54 million in the U.K, $36 million in France and $26 million in Oz.

In Germany, counterprogramming with Colin Nutley’s Swedish comedy “Heartbreak Hotel” paid off for Prokino/Fox. The chick-pic opened at No. 5 with $460,000 from 133, while X Verleih/Warners’ British comedy “Irina Palm” continues to hold well in sixth thanks to strong word of mouth and rave reviews, falling just 29% to $213,239 from 82.

Ed Meza in Berlin and Nick Vivarelli in Italy contributed to this report.

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