Batman returns to top of foreign box office

“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is showing plenty of life outside the U.S.

Amid a healthy foreign frame that saw “The Dark Knight” return to first place, “Dragon Emperor” continued to impress internationally with $32.6 million at 6,853 playdates in 56 markets. Thanks at least in part to its international settings and stars, the third “Mummy” pic has been far more stellar overseas than domestically with a cume of $196.6 million, or 70% of its worldwide total.

“Dragon Emperor” unearthed its top gross from its $7.5 million launch in Japan (including previews), where it finished second to the fifth frame of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest sensation, “Ponyo on a Cliff.” British biz slid 56% in the second frame to $2.9 million.

With China, Australia and Italy yet to launch, “Dragon Emperor” still has plenty of gas in the tank and will likely finish its foreign run ahead of the $260 million total for 1999’s “The Mummy” — possibly becoming one of the rare pics (such as “The Golden Compass”) with an international gross at three times the domestic total.

The Batman frenzy remained strong in international markets as “The Dark Knight” led the frame with $42.4 million at 7,700 playdates in 60 territories thanks to impressive launches in France and Spain. Foreign cume has hit $328.6 million — nearly double the top international cume among the previous five Batpics, the $166 million for “Batman Begins.”

“The Dark Knight” is now the 19th pic to cross the $800 million mark in combined domestic and foreign box office.

France led the way with a $9.6 million launch, followed by a $7.1 million Spanish debut — both more than double the “Batman Begins” openings. And in a sign of “Knight’s” staying power, South Korea’s soph sesh declined only 29% to $5 million, while the fourth Brit frame saw a 47% decline to $4.3 million for a Blighty cume of $79.6 million.

The Batpic heads into Germany next frame for its final major-market launch.

U’s “Mamma Mia!” also remained an overseas dazzler with $16.8 million at 2,750 in two dozen markets, lifting the foreign take to a surprisingly strong $204.6 million — becoming the ninth 2008 pic to cross the $200 million milestone. The weekend pushed the studio past its 2007 total of $1.03 billion in international grosses.

“Mamma Mia!” also carries strong future prospects with socko holds and three dozen territories still to open. The feel-good musical came in a solid second in Spain against “The Dark Knight” with a $4.9 million launch including previews; in the U.K., its sixth frame declined only 25% to $4.1 million for a cume of $89.2 million — the top Brit gross of any 2008 pic.

Frame saw distribs opt mostly for tried-and-true franchise fare, with domestic box office leader “Tropic Thunder” venturing into only two markets — Russia with $2.2 million at 418, doubling “Knocked Up,” and the U.A.E. with a first-place $311,000 at 19.

Par’s taking a typical go-slow launch pattern for “Tropic,” holding off Euro debuts for another month. Sony’s taken a similar approach on “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” which expanded nicely during the frame with $11.2 million at 1,475 in two dozen markets — led by a $5.4 million first-place launch in Germany in the best Adam Sandler opening for that territory.

Warner Bros. generated only moderate day-and-date biz for “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” with $7.6 million at 3,200 in 22 markets.

The summer’s animated titans, Disney’s “Wall-E” and Par’s “Kung Fu Panda,” continued chugging along nicely on the foreign front. “Wall-E,” still early in its foreign run, scooped up $13.8 million at 3,824 in 29 territories, including No. 1 launches in Portugal and Thailand, to lift international take to $146.2 million; “Kung Fu Panda” put its paws on $6.3 million at 4,062 in 51 markets to push the foreign cume to $363.5 million.

Though “The Dark Knight” should surpass “Panda” by the end of the month in foreign grosses, the toon is 2008’s second highest international grosser. It trails Par’s other powerhouse, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” now at $465 million.

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