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Almost every time a U.S. tentpole pic opened at less than stellar levels or crashed in its soph session this summer, studio execs were quick to proclaim their under-appreciated film was resonating — or would perform — so much better abroad.

Cynics might say that was an attempt to deflect media and industry attention from the domestic shortfalls — and a not-so-subtle way of putting more pressure on the majors’ international arms to deliver the goods.

It might have been a bummer of a summer in the U.S. thus far, but “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” already have harvested more coin overseas than at home.

Not so with “The Hulk,” although Universal brass insist director Ang Lee’s costly sci-fier will be modestly profitable from worldwide revenues, including homevideo. Helping the temperamental giant’s bottom line is the absence of deals that give the talent a slice of the backend.

The sequel fatigue that sapped ticket sales in the U.S. hasn’t happened to the same degree abroad because some titles have not yet opened overseas or, like the “Bad Boys” and “Lara Croft” adventures, have just started their international rollouts.

Summertime in key offshore markets is nowhere near as jam-packed with product as it is Stateside, giving almost every film reasonable breathing room.

Sony had the advantage of controlling most foreign rights to “Terminator 3” (which WB released domestically), so it was able to ensure three- to four-week gaps between it and “Charlie’s Angels 2.”

Studio forked out a reported $65 million for the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, which didn’t include Japan, South Korea and several smaller markets. “Whatever we paid, it’s clearly been worth it,” says Mark Zucker, senior exec VP at Columbia TriStar Intl.

Zucker figures “T3” will wind up pocketing at least $250 million outside North America, helped by age 12-15 classifications, which meant the pic played younger and to wider audiences than in the U.S., where it’s R-rated. Another factor: Arnold is a much bigger star abroad, and his films consistently do better internationally.

The “Angels” caper is on track to make $160 million overseas, benefiting from a less competitive environment and from publicity tours by the femme leads (Cameron Diaz wasn’t available to promo the first pic outside the U.S.). Stars who are frequently spotted in the U.S. represent much more value in creating awareness and want-to-see when they travel to support their films.

Sony is holding back “Bad Boys II” for the fall in Europe, targeting the action slots in which its “XXX” hit paydirt last year.

Zucker is convinced sequels generally are more popular internationally, reasoning folks overseas don’t go to cinemas as frequently as U.S. moviegoers and thus are less jaded.

Universal vice chairman Marc Shmuger admits he’s disappointed with “Hulk,” although he expects it to wind up with about $240 million globally. “It will be modestly profitable,” he says, anticipating strong numbers from DVD/video.

Enough to justify a sequel? “That hasn’t been determined. We’re exploring whether or not there is a way to reimagine this (concept) to make it worthwhile to go back,” he says, not sounding overly optimistic.

UIP lined up prime dates for “Hulk” a year ago, expecting it to attract young fans of the comicbook character and older auds who admire Lee’s works. “We gave it the best possible chance,” says UIP prez Andrew Cripps.

U and UIP are delighted with “2 Fast 2 Furious,” which Shmuger predicts will reach $240 million worldwide after its final liftoffs in Japan and South Korea.

“Johnny English” hasn’t been a big earner in the U.S., but Shmuger says the Rowan Atkinson comedy always was going to make most of its money abroad, where it’s delivered a lucrative $121 million, with Japan still to come.

Cripps is heartened by the opening figures for “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life” in its initial engagements in Asia. “We tweaked some of the marketing materials to make them more accessible internationally, and we are using a new TV spot which plays up the romantic angle,” he says.

“Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” has sailed past its puny domestic gross, but given the production budget and the steep costs of releasing the film in summer, the bottom line is unlikely to bring much succor to DreamWorks.

Conversely, Disney can expect to reap pots of gold from “Finding Nemo,” which surfaces in Europe in the fall and in Japan in December, and from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl,” judging by its opening hauls in Japan, Mexico and Argentina.

Disney and Spyglass are sharing the spoils of “Bruce Almighty,” which is destined to overtake “The Mask’s” $204 million to rank as Jim Carrey’s most successful pic outside the U.S.

Fox Intl. faces a considerable challenge in trying to make up for “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s” very ordinary U.S. result. You can bet the Sean Connery starrer, which is slated for September/October, will steer well clear of “Pirates,” which put it to the sword in their head-to-head confrontation domestically.