Disney's delay strategy works for film

Remy’s ruling the roost at the international box office, even though it’s four months after the original release of “Ratatouille.”

Thanks to Disney’s strategy to keep the toon on the shelf in about half of foreign markets — until after the summer tentpoles had cleared out — “Ratatouille” has dominated the month of October with back-to-back weekend wins via a second wave of releases in key markets such as the U.K. and Germany.

The Brit “Ratatouille” launch dominated the Oct. 12-14 frame with $9.6 million, more than four times the opening of “Resident Evil: Extinction” at $1.9 million in the second slot. And in its soph sesh in Germany, Teuton audiences shelled out $6.5 million for an 11-day cume of more than $20 million.

Other holdover territories were equally tasty, such as in Austria, where second-frame grosses declined only 1%. In Norway, the third weekend rose 12% over the soph sesh.

Pixar pic’s on target to hit the $300 million international mark as early as the Oct. 19-21 weekend, thanks to strong holdovers, plus openings in China, Italy, Poland and Sweden.

That makes “Ratatouille” the 50th film to hit that milestone — and underlines how strong the slate’s been in 2007, given that it becomes the seventh pic to do so this year. The other six are the third versions of “Spider-Man,” “Pirates of the Carribean” and “Shrek,” the fifth Harry Potter, “Transformers” and “The Simpsons Movie.”

Anthony Marcoly, president of Walt Disney Motion Picture Group Intl., believes the post-summer “Ratatouille” will wind up grossing at least $125 million in foreign box office.

“I don’t think that we could have done that much from the second wave of markets if we had gone day and date during the summer,” Marcoly asserts. “It feels counterintuitive at first glance, particularly with the risk of piracy, if you wait as long as we did.”

Marcoly and other Mouse execs first began pondering the scheduling chess game 18 months ago — and mostly opted to stay out of the way of franchise pics like “Shrek the Third” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

“We decided that there was so much awareness of the major titles that it made more sense to use those films as a trailering opportunity,” he adds.

With biz at typically moderate levels, Spain saw a stunning debut for ghost story “The Orphanage,” with $8.3 million during the Hispanic Day holiday four-day frame in what was the local hit of the year. Juan Antonio Bayona’s chiller marked the second-highest opening ever for a Spanish film after Santiago Segura’s “Torrente 3″ at $10.2 million.

“The Orphanage” repped 43% of the total Spanish B.O. for the four-day frame, according to Nielsen EDI, Spain. Toplining Belen Rueda (“The Sea Inside”), “Orphanage” was the third-best bow of the year in Spain, behind “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” ($12.2 million) and “Spider-Man 3″ ($11.5 million).

Spain’s film industry hopes “The Orphanage” — distribbed by Warner Bros. — will signal a turnaround in the box office fortunes for Spanish films, which have consistently underperformed this year.

The third “Resident Evil” continued to scare up solid biz, with its international cume approaching $50 million. Top perfs came from its second Brit frame ($1.9 million), a second-place launch in Italy ($1.3 million) and a first-place opening in Australia ($1.1 million).

Italian comedy-romancer “SMS,” centering on the adulterous impact of a text message mix-up, clicked better than expected with $1.82 million on 340 via Medusa.

“Michael Clayton” continued to show traction in Italy, declining 29% to stay in the top spot ahead of “Resident Evil” and the launch of “Stardust,” for a 10-day cume of $3.9 million. But Brit audiences showed scant interest in “Clayton,” with $284,798 at 115 in its third frame for a territorial total of $3.4 million.

In Germany, “Ratatouille” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” appeared to be the only pics with any legs in a flat frame, giving the laffer nearly $9 million in its first 11 days.

But the overall German box office fell 35% from the previous week. Middle East drama “The Kingdom” opened quietly in third place with $696,712, followed by Kinowelt’s new entry “Premonition” with $659,289. Local exhibs attributed the lethargic B.O. to the sunny skies over the weekend and a lack of exciting titles, adding that “The Kingdom” was perhaps too close to real-life headlines to attract escapist moviegoers.

Constantin’s highly anticipated “Pornorama,” Marc Rothemund’s first feature since his award-wining Nazi-era drama “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days,” disappointed with its seventh-place opening. The 1960s-set comedy pulled in a meager $368,557 from 338 following lukewarm reviews.

Ed Meza in Germany, Nick Vivarelli in Italy, Ali Jaafar in the U.K. and Emilio Mayorga in Spain contributed to this report.

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