Box office kicks summer into high gear

While 20th Century Fox’s “Rio” won the overseas crown over the April 22-24 weekend, a pair of tentpoles, Universal’s “Fast Five” and Paramount’s “Thor,” essentially kick-started the summer box office, launching in a few key offshore markets.

“Fast Five” tallied $23.5 million from only four markets, including Australia, South Korea and the U.K, while “Thor” collected $5.8 million from Australian auds only.

Meanwhile, Fox’s “Rio” took in almost $45 million in its third week of international play for an overseas cume of $213.9 million through April 25. The 3D toon has grossed just shy of $300 million worldwide, making it 2011’s best performer to date.

The summer box office season, which historically has started the first weekend in May, has been arriving earlier than usual internationally, beginning last year when Par debuted “Iron Man 2″ in foreign markets before its U.S. launch. This year, the studios’ decision to bow pics early overseas is an effort to dodge Hollywood’s heavy flow of summer tentpoles opening over the next few months.

“Fast Five” opened overseas a week before its April 29 Stateside bow to avoid head-to-head competition with Paramount’s “Thor,” which opens that same weekend virtually everywhere around the globe — except in the U.S., where the Par pic opens May 2.

However, “Fast Five” did compete against “Thor” last weekend in Australia, and drove past the comicbook adaptation by a commanding 41%, posting a weekend tally of $10.7 million in the territory. By comparison, “Thor” grossed $5.8 million in Oz, which was 30% higher than “X-Men: Wolverine,” but equal to “Clash of the Titans.”

Par is optimistic about “Thor’s” Oz opening, comparing it favorable with 2008’s “Iron Man.”

“Australian audiences have responded very positively to the release of ‘Thor’ this weekend, which bodes extremely well for its wide international release next weekend,” says Par Intl. topper Andrew Cripps. “We are delighted with these results and thrilled to be ahead of the global smash ‘Iron Man’s’ opening weekend in Australia.”

In Blighty, “Fast Five” opened at No. 1, with $8.8 million at 434 garages, ringing in 6% ahead of “Fast and Furious 4″ and on par with “Iron Man.” U’s newest adrenaline franchise installment also opened tops in South Korea, where it grossed $3.4 million at 239, making it the series’ best opening in that market and beating the previous “Furious” offering by a whopping 186%.

New Zealand auds contributed an estimated $950,000 at 55 for “Fast Five,” averaging a fine per-location average of $17,273. Pic’s debut there makes it the second-best opening for U behind “King Kong.”

Elsewhere, Fox’s “Rio” held on to the top spot in at least 23 markets, including Brazil where the toon scored the industry’s biggest third weekend with $6.9 million for a local cume of $29 million. “Rio” now is playing nearly everywhere.

Fox says it anticipates “Rio” will continue to play strongly in its fourth frame, benefiting from local holidays and Labor Day weekend in many markets. Last weekend’s increased holiday traffic, added to tykes on school vacation, meant more competish for the toon but also strengthened the overall marketplace.

In Spain, for instance, “Rio” skyrocketed 77% over the previous weekend, helping revitalize a slumping Spanish B.O.; but in Germany, the toon lost out to Dutch comedy “New Kids Turbo!” which opened to $2.3 million vs. $1.5 million for “Rio.”

Based on a popular Internet series, “New Kids Turbo” follows a wacky gang of unemployed small-town beer guzzlers who decide to protest against their poor financial situation. Pic, directed by Steffen Haars and Flip Van der Kuil, has cumed $15.7 million, the lion’s share from the Netherlands, where the film has grossed a total $11.7 million.

Emilio Mayorga in Barcelona, Ed Meza in Berlin, David Hayhurst in Paris, Nick Vivarelli in Rome and Mark Schilling in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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