‘Transformers’ revs up overseas

'Die Hard' foreign cume now $84.3 million

Robots and Bruce Willis dominated international moviegoing, with “Transformers” beating out “Live Free or Die Hard” for the top overseas spot.

“Transformers” is the first international leader in 10 weekends that isn’t a sequel — a victory made sweeter by the fact that pic hasn’t even opened yet in many major markets. Tentpole made $43.6 million from 3,503 playdates in 29 markets.

“Live Free or Die Hard,” known as “Die Hard 4” in most foreign markets, showed plenty of muscle with a solid $41.4 million at 6,773 in 49 markets — 14 of them new — for a foreign cume of $84.3 million.

With “Shrek the Third” staying sturdy overseas with an additional $33.5 million haul, overall biz remained in overdrive as the top three pics combined for $118 million — well ahead of the same weekend a year ago, when “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “Cars” and “Over the Hedge” took in a total of $81 million.

During the past nine frames, “Shrek the Third,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Spider-Man 3” each won three times — accumulating more than $1.5 billion in international coin in the process.

With overseas moviegoers sparking to the current crop of tentpoles, 2007 foreign grosses for the six major studios are now 13% ahead of last year’s record-setting pace.

That’s likely to continue in coming weeks with “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” launching Wednesday; the four prior “Potter” pics combined for $2.4 billion overseas.

Paramount’s “Transformers,” with launches in 19 new territories, showed impressive offshore traction with a socko $12,418 per-location average — by far the best among current pics.

Foreign cume has already hit $93.6 million, even though the sci-fier’s yet to open in many major markets, including the U.K., Japan, Germany and France; global box office is already at $246 million.

Foreign results for “Transformers” have come in at the high end of studio expectations and ahead of previous pics directed by Michael Bay.

“Looking at the global market, the thing that we are seeing is that it doesn’t matter what language you see it in, or what language you speak; the visuals that Michael Bay accomplished are spectacular, and the movie has a great sense of fun. The movie plays wherever you are,” Paramount prexy of worldwide marketing and distribution Rob Moore said.

“Transformers” performed best in Russia, with a launch of $8.3 million; its second Korean frame, off 40% to $7.9 million; its Spanish opening with $5.2 million; and its Australian soph sesh with $3.8 million, down 45%. It also posted the fourth-biggest launches ever in the Ukraine and the UAE and grossed at least $1 million in Holland, New Zealand, Sweden and Ukraine.

Fox Intl. co-topper Paul Hanneman said the Willis vehicle’s perf is in line with studio forecasts, mostly matching the performance of 1995’s “Die Hard With a Vengeance,” which took in more than $260 million overseas.

Top numbers for “Die Hard 4” came from its British launch, with $9.8 million, narrowly losing to the second frame of “Shrek the Third,” and its first-place French opening with $6.5 million. The actioner held well in Germany, off 37% to $4.2 million, and in Japan, down 33% to $3.1 million.

Paramount’s “Shrek the Third,” which had won the three previous frames, remained the go-to family pic as its foreign cume hit $322 million from 53 markets — $7 million ahead of the domestic total. In only two weeks, the U.K. has become the pic’s top market with $50.1 million, followed by France with $34.2 million in four frames.

Despite competition from the fifth “Potter” pic, “Shrek the Third” should stay in the green for several more weeks as Par aims to match the $479 million international cume for “Shrek 2.”

“Ratatouille” cooked up a respectable $9.3 million at 1,835 from a dozen markets, led by a solid Mexican opening of $4.2 million — more than the combined grosses of the next three pics — and a Russian soph sesh of $1.7 million, down 51% for a cume of $6.6 million for the top Pixar gross in that market. BVI opted to wait for “Shrek the Third” and “Order of the Phoenix” to play out and won’t launch “Ratatouille” elsewhere until late July with openings in South Korea and Japan.

“Ocean’s Thirteen” continued to tap into counterprogramming coin with $9.2 million at 4,930 in 55 markets. The caper comedy has grossed nearly $140 million overseas in five frames — $30 million ahead of the pic’s domestic cume — and performed in line with studio forecasts, although it won’t match the $237 million foreign total for “Ocean’s Twelve.”

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” showed decent traction in its seventh frame, declining 42% to $8.1 million at 6,597. Japan was the best performer by far with $2.3 million and a $78 million cume — less than $1 million behind the U.K. Foreign cume has hit $623.7 million, the fifth highest and $18 million short of “Dead Man’s Chest,” while its global gross is sixth highest at $925 million.

Fox’s “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” stayed on the radar with $7.9 million at 3,055 markets for a $96.7 million cume — in line with forecasts by Fox, which hasn’t yet opened the sequel in France, Japan, South Korea or Spain. “Surfer” needs another $80 million to match the “Fantastic Four” international total.

With tentpoles dominating, studios have been reluctant to release nonfranchise fare into foreign markets in recent weeks.

Universal dipped its toe in the water with “Knocked Up,” which launched to solid Australian results of $3.3 million, trailing the second frame of “Transformers” by 16% but posting the year’s third-biggest comedy launch in Oz; it opens later this month in New Zealand and Russia, then hits Europe in late August.

The only other notable biz came from Sony’s “Hostel: Part II” with $1.4 million at 974 in 15 markets for a cume of $10.7 million. That was enough to push Sony past the $1 billion mark in foreign grosses this year, becoming the first distrib to do so thanks largely to “Spider-Man 3” with $549.4 million along with “The Pursuit of Happyness” ($120 million) and “Ghost Rider” ($103.9 million).

It’s the fastest that Sony’s ever hit the mark, easily breaking the record it set last year, when it hit the mark on Aug. 24 on its way to $1.63 billion. With “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” opening Wednesday, Warner Bros. should become the second studio to hit the $1 billion mark this year by the end of next weekend.

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