Summer begins to cool at foreign box office

As the sun sets on the summer B.O. sesh, “The Dark Knight” and “Mamma Mia!” have stayed bright overseas and kept overall international B.O. healthy.

With those two pics enjoying exceptional holdover biz, the final foreign summer box office figure will come in at about $5.17 billion, or 3.6% behind last year’s record-setting season.

“Dark Knight” easily won the final summer weekend with $19 million at 6,580 playdates in 62 markets for a $417 million overseas cume. Pic has upended conventional wisdom — fostered by the fact that none of the five previous Batpics had generated more than $166 million overseas — that a dark superhero like Batman is a tricky sell to foreign markets. “Dark Knight” will wind up nearly tripling that number when its run ends.

On the lighter side, “Mamma Mia!” kept up its dazzling pace with $12.1 million at 2,933 in 33 territories, pushing its cume to a jaw-dropping $258 million with 22 markets still to launch.

Pic played exceptionally from mid-summer on the foreign front as the feel-good tuner demolished the record set by “Chicago” ($136 million) for top international gross by a tuner. U.K. biz led the way during the weekend with $2.8 million in its eighth frame, off just 20% for a Brit cume of $106.4 million.

Given that summer 2007 had four surefire franchises (the fifth Harry Potter and the third installments of “Spider-Man,” “Shrek” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”), this summer’s parade of pics has performed more than respectably, thanks to unexpected strength from a range of titles:

n “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” led the way on the foreign front with $466 million, overcoming the handicap of its characters having been out of theaters for nearly two decades. It would have finished only fifth last summer, trailing fourth-place finisher “Shrek the Third” by $10 million.

n Though a completely new property, Par’s “Kung Fu Panda” posted socko family biz throughout the summer, ending with $385 million outside the U.S. as it launched impressively in Italy over the weekend with $6.6 million. “Panda” is poised to join half a dozen other animated pics that have gone past $400 million overseas — “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille,” “The Lion King,” “Ice Age 2″ and the second and third “Shrek” pics.

n “Hancock” overcame downbeat themes and mixed reviews to reach $353 million, including a solid $7.9 million Japanese debut during the weekend. Will Smith bolstered his reputation as the most reliable draw outside the United States, half a year after “I Am Legend” cumed $327 million overseas.

n Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” despite being somewhat lost in the summer shuffle with $141 million domestically, had no problem overseas — where fantasy pics continue to show exceptional traction. “Caspian” finished the summer at an impressive $273 million.

n U’s “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” also performed far better outside the United States. It closed out the summer with $7.3 million at 4,468 in 53 markets for an international cume of $239.1 million and looks to nearly triple the domestic take with China opening this week.

  • Disney took a go-slow approach to rolling out “Wall-E,” avoiding head-to-head competition with “Panda” by opting for fall launches in many key markets. Pixar toon’s already hit $175 million overseas.

n “Mamma Mia!” wasn’t the only counterprogramming success story, as a pair of comedies aimed at the female demo turned in notable numbers. “Sex and the City,” handled by a variety of local distribs, grossed well over $240 million outside the United States, and “What Happens in Vegas” grossed nearly $140 million offshore.

The summer’s biggest offshore disappointment was “Speed Racer” with only $45 million. Other under-performers included “Meet Dave” with $30 million and “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” with $40 million.

For the most part, studios decided to put off overseas launches for pics that are tougher sells — particularly adult-oriented comedies such as “Tropic Thunder,” “Step Brothers” and “Pineapple Express.”

Sony recently began opening “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” in major markets overseas and has cumed nearly $60 million, a decent showing for an Adam Sandler vehicle.

Domestic leader “Tropic Thunder” is so far just a minor player overseas, with $3.5 million at 1,061 in 11 territories for a $14.1 million foreign cume. The laffer stayed in first in Australia with $1.6 million in its second frame, topping the opening of “Hellboy 2,” but launched quietly in Mexico with $680,000.

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