Brawny slate of tentpoles vies with Olympics, soccer

International B.O. is firing on all cylinders, and with summer just around the corner, the Hollywood majors are getting ready to stake out their tentpoles in hopes of collecting the lion’s share from overseas markets that generated $22.4 billion last year.

But this summer, Hollywood must contend with several potential overseas obstacles that pop up periodically — soccer and the Olympics — and an even more crowded schedule of event pics aiming for precious few dates from early May through early August.

Then there’s the potential July blackout period in China.

This season, Hollywood will unspool seven new installments from billion-dollar global franchises.

But that’s also the problem.

The heavy stream of studio tentpoles has made this summer’s dating game more competitive as studios navigate an overseas minefield that includes the Euro Cup (June 8-July 1) and the Summer Olympics (July 27-Aug. 12).

From early May until August, the franchise frenzy starts with Disney-Marvel’s “The Avengers” (in most territories day and date with domestic May 4); Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises,” set to bow throughout most of the world the weekend of July 20; Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” (worldwide, except Japan, starting July 3); and U’s “Bourne Legacy,” the fourth pic in the near billion-dollar global franchise, launches throughout August and September.

“There are a lot of films vying for a little bit less space,” notes Anthony Marcoly, prexy of Paramount Intl., who notes that other problems in dating tentpoles overseas include a shorter European summer holiday period — six weeks as compared with eight weeks in the U.S. — and maneuvering around potential breakout hits emerging from local filmmakers and Hollywood. Summer highlights for Par Intl. include “The Dictator,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.”

Universal’s “Battleship,” meanwhile, kickstarted the summer season the weekend of April 13 — much earlier than in years past. The reason: U aimed to get ahead of the seasonal logjam.

Warner Intl. prexy Veronika Kwan-Rubinek adds that events like the Euro Cup can provide advantages for certain genres. “Within the soccer championship, there’s always an opportunity to release a female-targeted movie,” Kwan-Rubinek says.

Warner’s rock-music tuner “Rock of Ages,” for instance, should skew mostly female, though the film could also see a solid contingency of men drawn to its rock soundtrack. The pic’s June launch throughout most of Europe acts as potential counterprogramming to the soccer tourney.

The same goes for the summer’s pipeline of family films.

Paramount-DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” marks the season’s first animated tentpole to bow internationally — on June 8 in Latin America, southeast Asia, France and Russia. “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” the fourth installment in Fox’s mega-grossing overseas toon franchise, debuts June 27-29 throughout most of Europe and Latin America; while Disney-Pixar’s “Brave” rounds out the bunch throughout August in Europe; pic debuts day-and-date in some territories on June 22, followed by a mid-July rollout in Japan and Latin America.

Animated films are typically scheduled to take advantage of local school holidays. Par plans to wait until October before releasing “Madagascar” in Japan during the country’s Obon holiday; it will hit most key territories in Europe in October as well, benefitting from half-term school vacations. Fox’s “Ice Age,” meanwhile, opens in Australia in late June — in time for winter school vacation in the southern hemisphere.

Hollywood expects to increase its reach in the developing markets, especially China, where 2012 B.O. started on a high note, with January totals up a whopping 61% over the same month in 2011 — despite quotas (and partly thanks to a mushrooming Imax market). “John Carter,” “The Hunger Games” and “Wrath of the Titans” continued the high-flying trend in China, which accelerated recently with Fox Intl.’s jaw-dropping $67 million local debut for “Titanic” 3D.

“I think it’s very interesting how the growth markets are taking a bigger market share compared to the more established markets,” Kwan-Rubinek notes.

As developing markets such as China and Russia contribute larger international market shares, the old-guard European territories have become tougher to crack for midrange Hollywood pics. That’s partly because local-language productions are seeing higher returns: In France and Germany, Gallic pic “The Intouchables” scored record-setting cumes of $156 million and $72.3 million, respectively. It’s now conquering Spain, where took $14 million in its debut weekend, and Italy, where it’s grossed $17 million in eight weeks.

“Midbudget Hollywood pictures are having a tougher time in general,” says Paul Hanneman, co-prexy of Fox Intl. “It makes the dating of our films more difficult when you have local-language films doing so well.”

But fortunately for Hollywood, this summer looks to hold few challenges from home-grown European pics, with Italy taking the summer off save for the May 11 unemployment laffer “Workers — pronti a tutto” (Workers — Ready for Anything) from Cinecitta Luce, and Bernardo Bertolucci’s reurn to the screen with “Me and You,” from Medusa: Both could impact numbers for “Dark Shadows,” which also goes out May 11 via Warner Bros.

For the rest, in a clear sign of France’s felicitous phase, it’s actually Gallic titles, rather than Italo ones, that could pose the biggest challenge to Hollywood over the summer in Italy.

June 15 sees the Italo release of Gallic cruiseship laffer “Welcome Aboard” via Eagle Pictures, which, boosted by topicality of Italy’s recent Costa Concordia shipwreck, could take a bite out of “The Dictator,” also on Italo release via U June 15.

Germany is also saving its best for autumn, with actioner “Schutzengel” (The Guardians), starring box office moneyspinner Til Schweiger opening Sept. 27 via Warner Bros. But “Das Hochzeitsvideo,” Soenke Wortmann’s comedy about a wedding that goes off the rails after a wild bachelor party chronicled by the groom’s hand-held camera, could draw younger skewing auds in its May 5 bow via Constantin.

France will see 3D family toon “Sammy 2″ bow on Aug. 15, while Franck Gastambide’s “Kaira Shopping,” an R-rated comedy about three unemployed young men from the projects looking to break into the adult business, goes out via Gaumont July 4. Another potential local French breakout might be Xavier Giannoli’s dramedy “Superstar,” which centers on a guy-next-door who unexpectedly becomes a huge TV star. Wild Bunch will release it on Aug. 29.

It’s unknown whether China will again impose its blackout period in July, meant to support local productions. Last year, however, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” did record-setting Chinese biz shortly after the blackout.

Most of the summer’s highly anticipated tentpoles (i.e., “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Prometheus,” “The Amazing Spider-Man”) have yet to be submitted to Chinese censors. But with the country’s increased quota on 3D and large-format films, added to its predilection for big-budget actioners, it’s likely those films will find their way into the territory.

There’s an added challenge of booking 3D films in some markets, like Brazil. “There’s a lot of money coming out of Brazil,” Hanneman says, “but it just doesn’t have the screen count that we’d like to see.”

That said, most overseas territories have established digital networks capable of handling the summer’s usual crush of 3D, totaling 12 stereoscopic Hollywood tentpoles from May to August. The number of digital screens internationally grew 78% from 2010 to 2011, with more than half the world’s screens now digitally compatible.

The strain on exhibition is expected to be most prevalent in the U.K., host country to the Olympics. To date, Blighty’s B.O. is outpacing this time last year by 3%.

As for the Euro Cup, Kwan-Rubinek admits that “there are certain markets you just know are going to be a challenge,” particularly Holland and
the Scandinavian markets.

But this isn’t Hollywood’s first time playing near the pitch; most bizzers remain confident they’ll find the right date for their pics — if they haven’t already.

“Every summer that has a soccer game poses additional challenges in terms of dating,” Kwan-Rubinek says. ” You’re always jockeying for the best possible date.”

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