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Franchises pay off overseas

Int'l box office hits $4.65 billion

At the halfway point of the year, foreign box office for Hollywood’s six majors has hit $4.65 billion — up 13% over the same period last year and 24% from the first six months of 2005.

Nearly one-third of that total has come from the third iterations of Sony’s “Spider-Man,” BVI’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” and Par’s “Shrek the Third,” which have combined for $1.5 billion outside the U.S..

It’s too early to tell how “Shrek” will compare to its predecessors overseas, but “Pirates” is on track to match the No. 2 outing, while “Spider-Man 3” easily outperformed the franchise’s earlier editions.

It hasn’t been a complete gravy train overseas. In the past, movies like “The Island” and “Eragon” found overseas bonanzas despite modest domestic performances. But for the past six months, domestic disappointments like “Perfect Stranger,” “Zodiac” and “The Reaping” have also been clunkers in foreign markets.

However, a few star-powered romantic comedies such as “Music and Lyrics” and “The Holiday” doubled their domestic cumes overseas.

While no studio has passed the $1 billion mark, Sony is poised to do so sometime this week.

“Spider-Man 3” spun $550 million in foreign markets, well ahead of the $418 million in foreign coin for the first and the $410 million for the second Spidey.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” should be able to match the second film in the series, “Dead Man’s Chest,” which wound up with $642 million overseas. The third “Pirates” pic is only $32 million away.  

As for “Shrek the Third,” it’s too early to tell for sure if it can beat the $479 million taken in overseas by “Shrek 2,” but prospects are bright with foreign grosses already at $261 million and several dozen markets still to open. 

Execs believe the foreign box office will retain the same pace for the rest of the year. Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, Warner Bros. prexy of international distribution, notes that the studio is expecting the usual blockbuster performance from the boy wizard in the form of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” Foreign grosses for the previous four “Potter” pics total nearly $2.4 billion.

The year so far has also benefited from strong perfs prior to the summer season, with Fox’s “Night at the Museum,” Warner’s “300,” Universal’s “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” and Sony’s “The Pursuit of Happyness” leading the way.

The summer’s also seeing solid starts for Fox’s “Live Free and Die Hard,” Warner’s “Ocean’s Thirteen” and Par’s “Transformers,” plus bright prospects for Fox’s “The Simpsons Movie” and BVI’s “Ratatouille.”

Universal’s mostly opted to avoid going head to head with the blockbusters, holding back until August, when it will start rolling out a trio of comedies — “Evan Almighty,” “Knocked Up” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” — plus “The Bourne Ultimatum.”

And it’s now become common for tentpoles to take in two-thirds of their worldwide take outside the U.S. Three of the top four overseas performers last year — “The Da Vinci Code,” “Casino Royale” and “Ice Age: The Meltdown” — generated more than 70% of their worldwide gross outside the U.S., a major change from the traditional 50-50 split between domestic and foreign performance.

Should the next six months deliver the same kind of performance, 2007 is likely to wind up in the $9 billion-$10 billion range.

Early favorites in the 2007 holiday season include Warner’s “I Am Legend,” Disney’s “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” and “Enchanted,” New Line’s “The Golden Compass,” U’s “American Gangster,” Paramount’s “Bee Movie” and “Beowulf” and Fox’s “Alien vs. Predator 2.”

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