Franchise titles frontline '08 box office goals

What can you do for an encore outside the United States?

Last year, Hollywood hit one home run after another at the overseas box office, with seven tentpoles — the third iterations of “Spider-Man,” “Shrek” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the fifth Harry Potter, “Ratatouille” “Transformers” and “The Simpsons” — taking in $3.5 billion, nearly all of it during the summer.

This year, international distribs face a pair of summer marketing challenges: the Euro Cup soccer tourney in June and the Beijing Olympics in August. But Fox VP Craig Dehmel notes his studio faces the soccer matches head-on with its worldwide release of “The Happening” on Friday the 13th (of June) while “Dragonball” goes out in mid-August in the U.S. and many foreign markets during the second weekend of the Olympics.

“So I would have to say no, they are not affecting our dating,” he says.

Another big challenge is the comedy glut. U.S. comedy remains the most elusive genre in international markets, with only an occasional blockbuster, such as “Meet the Fockers” or “Night at the Museum,” going past $300 million.

But, despite the qualms, studio execs are keeping an upbeat attitude for their prospects this summer.

Best international bets for summer: Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” Par’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and Sony’s “Hancock.”

The first Narnia pic scored heavily outside the U.S., taking in more than $450 million. Fantasy fare always has more traction overseas — look at the “The Golden Compass,” which has brought in $250 million internationally.

As for the fourth Indiana Jones being a bit long in the tooth, look no further than “Die Hard 4.0,” which scored a quarter-billion dollars last summer after a dozen years’ absence.

“Hancock” means little now, but count on Sony to spread the word that it’s the latest actioner with Will Smith, perhaps the most consistent international draw of recent vintage. “I Am Legend” has stayed stalwart, and should finish well above $300 million.

Family pics are some of the most reliable performers in foreign markets, even when the titles aren’t well-known. “Ratatouille” and “Ice Age: The Meltdown” both grossed well over $400 million, so Fox’s “Horton,” Disney’s “Wall-E” and Par’s “Kung Fu Panda” look like the top guns.

The outlook is not quite as clear on the foreign action front, although U’s third “Mummy” pic looks promising, given that its pair of predecessors combined for nearly $500 million overseas.

U has high hopes “Mamma Mia” can carry a foreign tune, and Fox sees international potential for “Starship Dave” with Eddie Murphy and “What Happens in Vegas” with Cameron Diaz.

The summer season is presenting intriguing action titles — Par’s “Iron Man,” Warner’s “Speed Racer,” Fox’s “The Happening” and an “X-Files” sequel, Warner’s “The Dark Knight” — but it’s a difficult to tell if all will stick. The previous Batman title, “Batman Begins,” generated respectable rather than blockbuster numbers, with $166 million overseas.

Still, marketers have to be heartened — “Transformers” wasn’t exactly a well-known property as it opened in foreign markets last summer — and then grossed nearly $400 million.

And international distribs already know that the year will end on an upbeat note with the 22nd James Bond from Sony in November and Warner’s sixth Harry Potter in December.

Last summer, the six majors saw foreign box office jump 10% to $9.5 billion. Since international audiences rack up lower moviegoing rates than domestic filmgoers, studios know it’s crucial to appeal to the foreign appetite for recognizable franchise fare. Hit that spot, and the take seems nearly limitless as long as the pics are big on concept, action and stars.

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