Summit already looking past 'Twilight' era

The beginning of the end of the “Twilight” era starts Wednesday as “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1″ commences its international rollout with launches in France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

The three “Twilight” films have been a veritable lifeline for international independent distributors during the past three years as Summit used foreign pre-sales to finance the franchise with international box office near $1 billion along with $800 million domestically. Thosenumbers could nearly double by the time that “Breaking Dawn, Part 2″ — due to open at this point next year — leaves theaters.

SND’s handling in France, Eagle in Italy, Belga in Belgium, Independent in Holland and Nordisk in Scandinavia. Australia, Greece, Portugal and Russia will open Thursday, and most of the rest of the world — including the U.S. — will launch Friday as “Twilight” mania once again takes hold in multiplexes worldwide.

The first “Twilight” generated $192 million domestically and $190 million on the foreign side. Germany was the top market with $24.6 million, followed by France with $23 milion, Spain with $20 million and the U.K. with $17 million.

“New Moon” saw a massive jump in box office performance with domestic at $296 million and foreign at $396 million. Interest among the Brits skyrocketed with $45 million, followed by France and Germany at $37 million each and Australia at $36 million.

“Eclipse” performed at about the same level last year with $300 million domestically and $373 million internationally. The U.K. led the way with $45 million, followed by Germany with $33 million, France with $31 million and the fast-growing Brazilian market with $29 million.

The “Twilight” series has made Summit a notable success story in recent years, proving there’s still significant box office potential beyond the majors. Indie financing brought “The King’s Speech,” “Black Swan,” “The Fighter” and “True Grit” to the bigscreen last year.

Proceeds from “Twilight” enabled Summit to pay off the $1 billion raised via Merrill Lynch in 2007, when it made the risky move to launch a full-service production and U.S. distribution operation, tapping Rob Friedman to join longtime Summit chief Patrick Wachsberger. It announced a $750 million debt refinancing in March and a cash distribution to investors including Participant Media, private equity fund Rizvi Traverse Management and Summit’s own management.

For the international distribs, “Twilight” represents a bonanza that recalls the days of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which New Line financed more than a decade ago through foreign pre-sales. The international box office on the three films wound up at more than $1 billion between 2001 and 2003.

The challenge for both Summit and their international partners will now be to find another successful franchise. Olivier Lebraud of French “Twilight” distrib SND told Variety last year that the main challenge it faces is the scarcity of big American titles available for pickups.

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