B.O. is up a massive 64% for the major studios

Summer box office may be off to a slow start domestically, but international B.O. is up a massive 64% for the major studios during the first five months, according to studio estimates.

If the trend continues, the booming overseas B.O. could help offset uncertainty in the U.S. biz over both theatrical and DVD returns.

The international box office typically contributes 60%-65% of worldwide box office, but this year, that percentage is likely to grow considerably. The growth is propelled by worldwide hits like “Avatar” and “Alice in Wonderland,” as well as titles that are working better overseas such as “Robin Hood.” Reasons for the boffo increase include 3D ticket upcharges, booming international markets such as China and Russia, as well as international casting and themes.

Some territories are seeing huge increases due to improved theaters, 3D installations and a growing middle class. China’s box office is up 189% over the same period last year, while Russia saw a 70% jump at the wickets.

“The box office that the industry is deriving from Russia has really become significant,” said Disney’s Bob Iger at an investor conference last week.

Other major territories seeing substantial growth include Australia, Brazil, India, Mexico and South Korea.

“There are multiple examples of overperforming titles internationally,” said David Kornblum, Disney’s VP of international sales and distribution. “Most everyone knows this is where the money is being made now.”

The growth thus far is particularly impressive considering that the Euro has declined by 15% against the dollar, meaning less coin for studios, since overseas revenues are reported in U.S. currency. Yet, in many European territories, the World Cup soccer tourney, which kicks off June 11 through July 11, could potentially slow down overseas box office. Most studios are delaying day-and-date debuts until tournament’s end.

Last month saw a crop of soft openings in the U.S., notably the Memorial Day debuts of Warner Bros.’ female romp “Sex and the City 2″ and Disney’s vidgame adaptation “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” “Sex 2″ opened with a four-day total of $36.8 million for a cume of $74.6 million, while “Prince” took in $37.8 million, totaling $61.2 million.

Both takes repped a considerable disappointment domestically, but both pics have overperformed outside the U.S., boosting May totals overseas 28% over the same month last year; Stateside revenues last month were down 3%. “Prince” has cumed an impressive $156.4 million internationally through the weekend, while “Sex 2″ has earned a total of $90 million.

So far, this year’s international flagships are 20th Century Fox’s “Avatar” and Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland,” both 3D powerhouses.

“Avatar” should pass the $2 billion mark internationally when Fox re-releases the pic in August, with that total repping some 73% of the film’s $2.74 billion worldwide haul. Meanwhile, overseas figures for “Alice” stand at $680.3 million ($1.01 billion globally), the fifth-highest overseas grosser.

With key overseas markets like Japan and Russia gaining traction on the 3D front, pics in the format continue to raise the bar internationally.

Paramount’s 3D toon “Shrek Forever After” debuted May 20 in Russia with $20 million, to become the market’s all-time top-grossing opener, accounting for 67% of the toon’s $46.1 million international cume. “Alice” has topped the Japanese box office for seven weeks.

Another title that continues to compensate for modest Stateside returns is Universal’s “Robin Hood.” Pic has struggled to gain much of a following among U.S. auds, but struck a chord with overseas moviegoers thanks to a well-known story and Oz stars Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. International cume for “Robin Hood” stands at $172 million, compared with $95.1 million in the U.S.

Despite some negative press, “Clash of the Titans” managed a decent $161 million in the U.S., but saw foreign grosses shoot to $314 million.

Some international markets have mirrored soft turnouts Stateside during the past few weeks, including Spain, where last week’s top player, “Sex 2,” grossed only $1.9 million.

Still, with an extensive bow for Fox’s “The A-Team” in 35 territories this weekend alongside Sony’s Asian-based “Karate Kid,” the international B.O. is expected to remain strong.

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