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‘Chicago’ sings overseas

Tuner helps Miramax break six-month B.O. record

After a downer in 2002, Miramax Films has regained what it regards as its rightful position as a B.O. force at home and overseas.

The mini-major’s films have amassed $280 million domestically and $275 million internationally so far this year.

That will ensure the first six months is a company record, beating its worldwide total of $268 million in the corresponding period last year, $440 million in 2001 and $386 million in 2000.

Credit much of that turnaround to “Chicago,” which has orchestrated more than $300 million in ticket sales globally ($168.7 million in the U.S., $133.2 million outside it) and now ranks as Miramax’s biggest grosser ever, surpassing “Shakespeare in Love’s” $282 million.

Another hefty contributor is “The Hours” (shared with Paramount, which released it Stateside), which has topped $100 million — $60.7 million of that from overseas wickets, $41.6 million at home.

Miramax chief operating officer Rick Sands is confident the distrib will maintain its momentum in the second half of this year, powered by “Spy Kids 3: Game Over” (which launches July 25 in the U.S.), Hong Kong comedy “Shaolin Soccer” (Aug. 8), “The Human Stain” (Sept. 26), “Kill Bill” and “Scary Movie 3” (October) and “Duplex” and “Bad Santa” (November).

Capping its year, the studio will release Anthony Minghella’s Nicole Kidman-Jude Law starrer “Cold Mountain” Dec. 25 in the U.S. and, via sibling Buena Vista Intl., day-and-date in the U.K. and Australia.

Miramax hasn’t decided yet whether to partner with another studio on other international markets after MGM bailed on “Cold Mountain,” which is budgeted north of $80 million. “We have not seen the film, (but) we’re not in a rush and we’re not worried,” Sands says.

While Miramax’s output remains steady at around 25 pics a year, the firm has noticeably cut back on acquisitions. “We’re selective: we buy what we like,” Sands says. “There is no pressure from Harvey (Weinstein) to buy five movies at Sundance or five movies at Cannes. We no longer want to get involved in bidding wars. Before, we used to be worried about missing something.”

Sands and producer Scott Rudin are delighted with “The Hours'” $100 million-plus B.O. At the outset, Rudin said he would have been happy if the drama made $50 million worldwide. As it stands, he says, the pic is “very profitable,” given that it cost just $20.5 million.

“With a movie like this, the odds are you will make a really good movie but people won’t go see it,” adds the producer, who attributes much of its success to the promo efforts of the talent and Miramax’s enthusiasm.

Japan has been a lucky market for Miramax, generating a juicy $26.2 million for “Chicago” and a solid $5.7 million through its third weekend for “The Hours.”

On paper, the third edition of “Spy Kids” could pose a challenge overseas, as the second installment fared poorly. But Sands believes helmer Robert Rodriguez’s device of shooting in 3-D will generate a lot of excitement and want-to-see among videogame-loving kids, and he says a demo reel has garnered terrific reactions from U.S. exhibs and international distribs.

Miramax plans to release Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” in quite a few overseas markets day-and-date with the U.S., banking on the helmer’s cachet to draw crowds.

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