Musical remains on top of foreign box office

“Mamma Mia!” continued to do sensational biz overseas, warbling its way into the top weekend slot at the international box office with $15 million from 3,493 playdates in 39 markets.

Thanks to a socko Korean launch plus impressive holdover biz, “Mamma Mia!” has topped $280 million outside the U.S. — more than double its domestic take.

With “Mamma Mia!” leading the way, summer hits dominated offshore biz. “The Dark Knight” stayed bright with $11.8 million off 5,100 to lift its foreign cume to $437 million, and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” scared up $11.6 million from 5,265 — mostly from its launch in China — to surpass $255 million in international box office.

The trio has combined for nearly $1 billion in overseas gross, all exceeding studio forecasts. The performances have kept overall foreign biz for Hollywood majors on pace to match 2007′s record of $9.5 billion — and a tonic at a time when moviegoing’s falling from red-hot summer levels.

“Mamma Mia!” has been the biggest surprise in foreign markets since French mega-hit “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” topped $200 million. Among 2008 releases, the feel-good musical trails only “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” at $466 million, “The Dark Knight,” “Kung Fu Panda” at $397 million and “Hancock” at $362.6 million.

“Mamma Mia!” set a record in South Korea as the top musical launch with $5.5 million, finishing behind the opening of Kim Yoo-jin’s war epic “Divine Weapon.” And in a sign of the staying power of “Mamma Mia!,” its ninth Brit frame was competing for first with the $2.9 million launches “RocknRolla” and “The Duchess” while its U.K. cume hit an astounding $112.1 million, going past “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” as the fifth-highest grosser of all time in Blighty.

“Mamma Mia! continued to shine in other markets too: Germany at $1.3 million for $32.4 million in eight weeks and Australia at $27.8 million after nine frames. Spanish biz slid only 27% in its fifth frame to $1.1 million for a $14.1 million cume.

With solid holdover biz plus openings in 16 more markets, “Mamma” is on track to stay a player throughout the fall and top $500 million in combined international and U.S. grosses. It launches next week in Belgium, Brazil, France, India, Hong Kong and Mexico.

Meanwhile, “The Dark Knight” hit the $950 million mark in combined worldwide grosses. The Batpic remained a decent draw in Germany, dropping only 30% in its third frame to $3.2 million for a first-place tie with U’s launch of “Wanted.”

Universal — which topped last year’s total foreign box office of $1.03 billion three weeks ago — remained by far the most active distrib during the frame. U scored its biggest Chinese launch of all time with the $7.9 million opening for “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” shot in China as a co-production with local cast headed by Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Isabella Leong and Anthony Wong.

The “Dragon Emperor” perf underlines the appeal of action pics at the foreign box office, generating 70% of its worldwide gross outside the U.S., where domestic cume is $100 million. The “Mummy” sequel opens next weekend in Australia and New Zealand.

Two other U actioners stay active as “Wanted” notched $6.5 million at 1,802 to lift the foreign cume to $146.8 million and “Hellboy 2″ grabbed $5 million to push the international total to $48 million.

Family films continued to mint money overseas as “Kung Fu Panda” put its paws on $6.3 million at 2,922 — mostly from its second Italian frame — and Disney’s “Wall-E” scooped up $6.2 million at 3,375 to reach $185 million. With fall under way, “Wall-E” will battle “Mamma Mia!” for the top slot as it launches next weekend in Australia, Greece and New Zealand.

Disney also racked up an impressive first-place launch in Mexico as its local version “High School Musical: El Desafio” took $2.3 million — portending potentially strong foreign results when the Mouse opens “High Musical 3″ in late October.

The frame also saw studios continue to proceed with caution on comedies. Three months after its domestic bow, Sony’s “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” is in 37 markets with a foreign cume at $78 million; Paramount’s “Tropic Thunder” is in only 16 territories with an $18 million international total.

And after a red-hot first half, Fox continues to see modest results. “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” generated $1.3 million off 899, mostly from a third-place Italian launch, pushing foreign cume to $42 million, and “Meet Dave” took $542,908 from 700 for a $31.4 million international total.

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