Foreign box office picks up for Oscar titles

Oscar fever has started hitting the international markets, but only for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”

“Button” already looks likely to become the leading title in coming weeks after starting the month’s first frame (Feb. 6-8) with $32 million at 5,126 playdates in 47 markets — including launches of $5.5 million in France, $5 million in Spain, $3.5 million in Japan and $3.2 million in the U.K. “Button” held impressively in its second German frame with $3.9 million, off only 16%.

Both titles are still early in their foreign runs, with “Button” at about $86 million as of Feb. 12 and “Slumdog” at $50 million, and an Oscar for best picture would likely lead to a doubling of the winner’s cume. Two years ago, “The Departed” took in $157 million internationally, while “No Country for Old Men” managed an $88 million foreign cume last year.

With Warner Bros. and Paramount on the hook for “Button’s” pricey production costs, the studios need the pic to perform significantly better in international markets than it did domestically; Stateside cume is $120 million. Brad Pitt’s star power may be a major asset, as it was when “Babel” topped $100 million internationally two years ago.

“Slumdog” is a different animal since the foreign rights are held by an array of local distribs. Half of its international gross has come from the U.K., with nearly $25 million in a month and more to come thanks to its seven BAFTA wins on Feb. 8.

Of the other Oscar contenders, “Revolutionary Road” has shown the most traction, with foreign grosses from 41 markets nearing $40 million — more than double its domestic cume.

Other awards hopefuls have stayed in limited release so far. Disney’s “Doubt” has cumed $7.5 million internationally, followed by $6.5 million for “Milk” and $5.7 million for “Frost/Nixon.”

“Doubt” showed decent traction in Spain in its second frame with $1.7 million, off only 26%. “Frost/Nixon” debuted flatly in Italy with $370,000 from 151.

MGM/UA’s “Valkyrie,” which had led the international box during previous two frames, continued to post moderate results, with $11.3 million at 4,267 in 37 markets. In a sign that Tom Cruise films are no longer necessarily blockbusters, the foreign cume has topped $56 million internationally in three weeks.

Reflecting continued solid foreign interest in animated fare, Disney’s “Bolt” fetched $11.5 million at 3,150 in 31 territories for a $111 million foreign cume midway through its international run.

Looking ahead, “Benjamin Button” is likely to top the chart again during the Feb. 13-15 frame thanks mostly to holdover biz plus launches in Italy and South Korea. “Bolt” will probably lead the rest of the pack with expansions into Benelux and the U.K., where previews have already scored around $3 million.

“Valkyrie” launches its last round of openings, including Brazil and Mexico. And “Friday the 13th,” handled by Par overseas, should scare up respectable offshore biz with day-and-date launches in most major markets including France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Spain and the U.K.

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