China spurt helps overseas film grosses surge to $22.8 billion

International box office snapshots

Despite a year that included the Summer Olympics in Britain, the Euro Cup soccer tournament and fallout from the Euro Zone crisis infecting large swaths of Europe, the international box office hit unparalleled heights in 2012, growing 2% to an estimated $22.8 billion through Dec. 31, to eclipse 2011’s record $22.4 billion.

Better still, with China B.O. continuing to grow, and digital theaters taking hold worldwide, Hollywood is increasingly able to count on foreign wickets to offset bigger gambles Stateside.

China, with $2.7 billion (a spike of 33%), passed Japan ($2.3 billion) to become the top-earning international territory, and invited more foreign 3D and Imax titles into the market to provide content for its cinema-building boom, even as it aimed to limit the impact of Hollywood fare, releasing “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” on the same day, for instance. While foreign films accounted for approximately 52% of the China B.O., the territory saw stellar returns from homegrown productions like “Lost in Thailand” (the market leader, at more than $158 million) and “Painted Skin II: The Resurrection.”

Studio fare continued to dominate in most territories, with international B.O. ringing up ever-larger shares of a pic’s global cume. “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” for instance, which helped Fox top all U.S. studios in international market share last year (see chart, page 28), earned more than 80% of its $875 million worldwide tally overseas.

The other majors each had top earners in 2012: Disney came away with the year’s No. 1 title, “The Avengers,” which amassed $1.5 billion worldwide. Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises” also passed the $1 billion mark globally and Sony’s “Skyfall” became that studio’s first $1 billion global grosser.

Universal scored a surprise victory with R-rated comedy “Ted” crossing the $500 million global mark, while Paramount’s top 2012 title, “Madagascar 3,” minted almost $750 million worldwide, giving the otherwise dormant Par, the market-share leader in 2011, something to celebrate.

Major markets like Germany, Russia, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Brazil saw year-to-year B.O. improvements in 2012, although in Russia, where local market share fell to less than 13%, some politicos were considering adding a special tax on foreign box office receipts.

Meanwhile, admissions were down in France, and B.O. was off in Italy and Spain, where the record success of local pic “The Impossible” ($53.5 million) helped stanch the bleeding somewhat. Apart from Spain, which dealt with the crippling economic crisis, the decline in the other European markets was due, in part, to the Euro Cup, which forced distribs to get creative in releasing their summer tentpoles.

Disney, for instance, sent out “The Avengers” a few weeks early overseas, which forced Universal to go early with “Battleship.” Fox spread out the international release of “Prometheus” over nearly four months, while “Ice Age” launched throughout most of Europe and Latin America in late June, before the pic’s July 13 domestic debut.

This year, the competition overseas will come not from sporting events, but from an increasingly crowded calendar of studio franchise fare that includes “Star Trek Into Darkness” (Paramount), “Man of Steel” (WB), “Iron Man 3″ (Disney), “The Hangover Part III” (WB), “Fast and Furious 6″ (Universal), “The Smurfs 2″ (Sony) and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (Lionsgate).

With the international box office becoming more integral to studio profits, it’s a glut that only figures to grow.

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