Natty long legs

Summer pics defy U.S. drops, soar overseas

This may be the summer of quick burnouts at the U.S. box office, but films in most overseas territories are enjoying more stable trajectories.

“The Mummy Returns,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Jurassic Park III” and “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” are among the pics soaring well past their domestic tallies, and several more are poised to do the same. In the wake of a stellar debut in France, 20th Century Fox is betting “Planet of the Apes” will be an overseas monster, helping ease the pain of its worse-than-average domestic fade.

A typical Hollywood tentpole often records 55%-60% of its worldwide total overseas, and that ratio still applies this summer.

What’s noteworthy about the season is the sheer number of pics whose grosses are tilting toward overseas, as well as their playability compared with the megaplex-saturated States. “A.I.” is an eye-catching example. The sci-fier has posted a higher gross ($77 million) in Japan than it did in a high-profile North American run that began right before the July Fourth holiday.

Second-week drops have in some cases been half the anxiety-provoking swoons of 50%-60% in the U.S.

More room

One reason for the global rally is sensible scheduling by distribs, which usually ensures a gap of at least two weeks between tentpole releases in the major overseas markets.

Such scheduling strategies aren’t simply smart, they’re pragmatic: Unlike the U.S., few offshore markets have sufficient screens to accommodate several big films on the same weekend.

That kind of spacing gives audiences time to “find” movies, since not everyone goes to a movie on its first weekend, noted United Intl. Pictures president/chief operating officer Andrew Cripps.

Cripps pointed to another factor in the friendly skedding: “The fall is a strong holiday period in most European markets, which suits the release of product targeted at the youth market. That means some U.S. summer product can go later without the congestion of too much competition.”

Fall looks formidable overseas as well, with the curtain going up on “Moulin Rouge,” “A.I.” and “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” in Europe. Waiting in the wings as well are summer domestic clicks “The Fast and the Furious,” “American Pie 2” and “America’s Sweethearts”; and sleepers “The Princess Diaries” and “Legally Blonde.”

Major pain in France, Spain

While execs at the U.S. majors are delighted with the summer B.O. results outside the U.S., they can only ruminate on how lucrative the season would have been if auds in Spain and France hadn’t been relatively cool toward Hollywood’s offerings.

“Spain has been one of our most consistent markets over the past three or four years,” said BVI exec VP Anthony Marcoly, who can’t explain why no U.S. film has gone through the roof in the territory this summer.

One Spanish exhib may have the answer. “The titles have not been very attractive,” said Pablo Nogueroles, director of development and marketing at the Yelmo Cineplex. “The problem is that the marketing effect wears off very quickly and word of mouth gets going.”

The “culprit” is easier to spot in France, with the ascendancy of Gallic films this year.

“Preferences have changed. Audiences are more loyal to local product,” said BVI’s Marcoly, who was disappointed with “Pearl Harbor’s” $11.3 million in France and its $6.8 million in Spain. He expects Michael Bay’s war pic to wind its overseas run with about $240 million.

Underlining the dominance of homegrown fare in France — until “Shrek” arrived — only one U.S. release, “102 Dalmatians” (which collared $14 million), figured in the top five titles this year. The market share for French films during the first eight months of the year is a huge 45%, noted Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, Warner Bros. president of international theatrical distribution.

Wanted: Vacation time

However, there are a few territories, including Mexico, Brazil and Taiwan, that have relatively short summer vacations, resulting in a seasonal product logjam.

“As an industry, we feel the pressure of having to cram films into a four- to six-week window” in those markets, said Fox Intl. president Scott Neeson.

“Jurassic Park III” has opened strongly in nearly every market except France. Cripps said its second-weekend holds have not been quite as good as he’d hoped, but predicted the international gross is headed for north of $200 million, outpacing domestic.

“Shrek” has demonstrated terrific playability in major markets but won’t reach the dizzying heights it has at home. Cripps is confident the DreamWorks toon will exceed $200 million abroad, but won’t know by how much until after it launches in Japan in December.

UIP took a calculated risk in releasing the pic in summer; while that’s paid off, Cripps allowed, “It’s taken a long time for audiences to find the movie in France and Italy.”

“Swordfish” and “Planet of the Apes” — which is seen by Fox as a lock for $200 million after preems in France and Germany — have been hot at the overseas B.O. as well.

Quality at issue

Despite all that euphoria about the summer biz, a few tradesters share Nogueroles’ sentiments about the overall caliber of Hollywood’s output.

One major exec surmised, “Maybe the films were not good enough. Almost every film this summer was targeted at the same demographic — young males.”

(Emiliano de Pablos in Madrid contributed to this report.)

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