'Avatar,' 'Ice Age' propel studio to $2.26 billion overseas

With help from animated dinosaurs, singing chipmunks and the distant world of Pandora, 20th Century Fox has reached an estimated $2.26 billion in foreign ticket sales to set a new industry record at the international box office.

Previous best was the $2.24 billion grossed by Warner Bros. in 2007.

Final foreign totals for the majors will be released after New Year’s. Sony and Warner Bros. also are having a banner year, with Sony titles grossing slightly north of $2 billion internationally and Warners grossing roughly $1.85 billion to date.

Fox reached the milestone over the holiday weekend, as James Cameron’s “Avatar” collected an estimated $145 million in its second sesh for a foreign cume of $405 million in just 10 days, and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” debuted to $36.5 million from 5,492 screens in 42 markets.

Fox’s sparkling 2009 foreign performance is led by 3D toon “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” which cumed a whopping $687.2 million to become the third-highest international grosser of all time after “Titanic” ($1.2 billion) and Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” ($742.1 million).

It is exciting and incredibly satisfying for us to reach this milestone. Not only have we had exceptional films this year but this success reflects a herculean effort by every team we have at Fox International. We could not be prouder of everyone involved,” Fox co-prexies of international distribution Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus said.

Like “Titanic,” “Avatar’s” overseas performance is pacing ahead of its domestic run by almost double, reflecting the strength of increasingly important foreign territories and the appeal of sci fi and fantasy fare overseas.

Avatar’s” domestic total through Sunday was $212.3 million.

Over the weekend, “Avatar” opened in Japan to $14.5 million from 1,114 screens, Fox’s best opening for a non-franchise title.

Avatar” played on a total of 14,844 screens in 108 markets. France led with $18.5 million from 1,114 screens, a comparable number to the second weekend for “Titanic” and “Return of the King.” Territory cume is $48.4 million. Spain followed with $12.1 million, up 11% from opening weekend. Cume is $29.9 million.

Other cumes through Sunday include $32.3 million for Germany, $29.6 million for the U.K., $26 million for Australia and $15.5 million for Mexico.

In South Korea, “Avatar’s” cume of $29.5 million has surpassed “Titanic” to become the highest grossing Fox title of all time, as well as in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Imax theaters are seeing big business from Avatar, both internationally and overseas. Of the film’s global total $617.3 million, $39 million have come from Imax runs, including $11.1 million overseas.

Moviegoers are voting that this is the place to see Jim Cameron’s movie,” Imax Filmed Entertainment prexy Greg Foster said.

Squeakquel” did big biz in the U.K., grossing an estimated $8.6 million in its launch on 487 screens. It grossed $3.2 million in Spain, $3.1 million in Australia and $2.8 million in Mexico. Film performed 215% ahead of “Alvin’s” opening in the same markets.

Squeakquel” grossed $77.1 million in its five-day domestic debut for a worldwide total of $133.6 million. It has yet to open in 25 more territories, including major markets Korea, Brazil, China and Italy.

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