Tentpoles help majors to 9% jump overseas

International moviegoers played a starring role for Hollywood studios in 2007, driving foreign box office to record levels.

Offshore biz remained robust throughout the year thanks to a combo of worldwide franchise titles, midrange pics that found solid traction and the positive impact of the weak dollar — which gave studios more greenbacks when converted back from foreign currencies.

Seven tentpole pics combined for nearly $3.5 billion, led by “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” with $655.7 million and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” with $645 million.

The six majors saw their offshore grosses jump 9% to $9.4 billion, led by Warner Bros. with $2.15 billion, followed by Disney with $1.68 billion, Fox at $1.68 billion, Par at $1.6 billion, Sony at $1.27 billion and Universal at $1.03 billion. Figures are estimates since studios haven’t finished totaling key titles currently in multiplexes at year’s end.

Warner added to its lead on the final frame of the year as Will Smith’s “I Am Legend” easily won with $46.1 million in 25 markets, led by a socko $21.8 million Brit launch starting on Boxing Day. Foreign cume had hit $117 million as of Sunday and should easily double that with openings in Australia, Germany, Italy and Mexico in coming weeks.

The “Legend” perf solidifies Smith’s star status as a dependable worldwide draw, coming a year after his “Pursuit of Happyness” cumed an impressive $141 million outside the U.S.

Besides “Legend” and the fifth Potter pic, Warner also scored impressively in 2007 with “300” ($246 million), “Ocean’s Thirteen” ($194 million) and “Blood Diamond” ($114 million).

The final 2007 frame also saw “The Golden Compass” remain a stellar performer outside the U.S. with $34 million at 7,600 for a stunning $187 million foreign cume. The final international gross for “Compass,” handled by a variety of foreign distribs, should eventually hit $250 million — a stark contrast to the pic’s domestic perf, which is currently at about $60 million.

The “Compass” performance underlines the international traction for fantasy fare: Paramount’s summer-fall title “Stardust” salvaged a disappointing domestic run with $96 million overseas. Disney’s “Enchanted” took in $20 million during the weekend and has already gone past $111 million overseas midway through its run, passing the Stateside cume.

Disney is also finding foreign coin for “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” with $21 million in 25 markets for a two-week cume of $60 million. The solid start puts the sequel on track to top the final $174 million offshore cume for the original “National Treasure.”

Besides the third iteration of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Disney also cooked up impressive foreign numbers from “Ratatouille” with $411 million. The Paris-set toon scored its top international perf in France; a $60 million cume made it the year’s top title in that market.

Fox scored decent returns in the final 2007 frame from a pair of pics: “Aliens vs. Predator — Requiem,” with $15.9 million at 1,784 in 20 markets, for an impressive $8,910 per-location average; and “Alvin and the Chipmunks” with $13.6 million at 3,608. Foreign cume on the latter is nearly $38 million.

“The Simpsons Movie” saw the top 2007 foreign take for Fox with $342.6 million, followed by “Night at the Museum” with $262.4 million, “Die Hard 4.0″ at $247.6 million and “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” with $152.3 million.

Paramount’s “Bee Movie” continued to take advantage of its status as the only toon in the market, buzzing up $13.5 million at 4,904 in 59 markets; foreign cume is $103 million.

“Bee” capped an impressive first year for Paramount Pictures Intl., which was created following the winding down of Par’s UIP partnership with Universal. PPI scored with “Shrek the Third,” taking in $475 million internationally, and “Transformers” at $388 million; it also saw solid foreign perfs from “Stardust” and “The Heartbreak Kid” with $86 million.

Par finished the year with a pair of awards-season contenders in their first foreign outings, as “No Country for Old Men” took in a socko $1 million at 52 in its Australian opening and “The Kite Runner” bagged $900,000 at 132 in the U.K.

Sony closed out the year quietly with its Mexican launch of “The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep” with $1.45 million since Christmas. The studio front-loaded its schedule with “Spider-Man 3,” which cast a web of $555.4 million; “The Pursuit of Happyness” ($141 million); and “Ghost Rider” ($113 million). Its top late-year performers were “Resident Evil: Extinction” ($61 million plus $34 more in non-Sony markets) and “Surf’s Up” ($87 million).

Universal’s “American Gangster” gunned down $6.6 million in 25 markets on the final 2007 weekend to raise its foreign cume to $62.6 million in the middle of its run and help push U past the $1 billion mark for the year.

The studio’s top performance came from “The Bourne Ultimatum” with $215 million and “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” with $184 million; its trio of summer comedies — “Evan Almighty ($73 million), “Knocked Up ($70 million) and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” ($65 million) — delivered respectable rather than blockbuster numbers.

U also saw decent traction for Brit comedy “Hot Fuzz” with $57 million and for awards-season hopeful “Atonement” with $36 million.

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