Overseas treasure

More H'wood pix earn bulk of coin abroad

For the U.S. majors, 2003 ranks as a milestone overseas — and not just for Disney’s Buena Vista Intl., which was the No. 1 studio in the U.S. and abroad, or for Warner Bros. and Miramax, which both posted company records.

A wider assortment of Hollywood films than ever before clocked up higher grosses offshore than domestically.

The list of overachievers includes “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” “Finding Nemo,” both “Matrix” installments, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “8 Mile” and “Kill Bill Vol. 1.”

British-set comedies “Love Actually” and “Johnny English” continued the genre’s tradition of drawing more strongly outside the U.S.

Second chances

Foreign outings also gave some succor to studios for films that were minor performers in the U.S., such as “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “Intolerable Cruelty” and “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.”

Benefiting from its subject and Oscar win, “The Pianist” also played better overseas, orchestrating an estimated $87.5 million vs. domestic’s $32.5 million.

“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” is on course to cruise past its disappointing U.S. total, but exhibs say its potential has been restricted by skewing heavily to males and older auds, excluding femmes and youngsters. Others say its slow pacing is a problem.

Director Peter Weir’s seafaring saga has grossed $75.8 million, including Italy’s buoyant $11.3 million; with Japan and Latin America on the horizon, it has $100 million in its sights.

Last weekend the Russell Crowe starrer captured $2.5 million on 359 screens in France, 19% ahead of “The Bourne Identity,” an encouraging start considering the French lost the naval battle with the Brits in the pic. It drummed up $392,000 on 96 in Thailand and $300,000 on 50 in New Zealand.

U.S. execs credit the growth in diversity in the over-performers to several factors:

  • A maturing and broadening of cinemagoers’ tastes.

  • New screens and cinema refurbishments, which have boosted the overall B.O. pie, especially among family auds.

  • The strengthening of the euro against the greenback (by an average of 20% last year), which inflated the majors’ results across the board.

Last year 24 titles passed the $100 million mark, compared with 21 in 2002. The only foreign pic in that club was Japan’s “Bayside Shakedown 2.”

BVI’s $1.88 billion haul is the second highest ever internationally for a single studio behind Fox’s “Titanic”-fueled $1.97 billion in 1998. Showing remarkable consistency, BVI has won the crown overseas in six of the past 10 years and exceeded $1 billion annually for nine years straight.

WB’s $1.63 billion tally last year tops its previous high of $1.6 billion in 2002. Warner has cracked $1 billion six times.

Seven over $100 million

United Intl. Pictures raked in a combined $1.74 billion from Universal, Paramount and DreamWorks product plus acquisitions. UIP became the first distrib to handle seven pics in a calendar year that notched $100 million plus: “Love Actually,” “Johnny English,” “Catch Me if You Can,” “American Wedding” “8 Mile,” “The Hulk” and “2 Fast 2 Furious.”

UIP prexy Andrew Cripps also points to the distrib’s healthy returns from specialized fare such as “Lost in Translation” and “21 Grams.”

Last weekend, the “Lord of the Rings” finale was the undisputed B.O. king for the third consecutive frame, but the B.O. largesse was shared with holdovers “Love Actually” and “Finding Nemo” and a bunch of rookies.

“Return of the King” amassed an estimated $58.7 million from 8,826 screens in 45 territories, propelling cume to $390.4 million, tracking 29% ahead of its predecessor “The Two Towers” at the same point in their foreign adventures. With Italy and Japan ahead, “King” is a cinch to zoom past “Tower’s” $583 million total.

In its only significant bows, Peter Jackson-helmed epic rang up a terrif $2.3 million on 150 screens in Poland and $954,000 on 108 in Argentina. Hobbit tale minted $13.7 million in four days in the U.K., spurring local total to $72.2 million. Germany contributed $10.6 million, upping its haul to $64.6 million; France banked $5.4 million, cuming $39.1 million; and Spain’s $5.4 million haul boosted the market tally to $29.8 million.

Through its soph session in Oz, New Line’s phenom has pocketed a socko $19.3 million. Other stellar scores include South Korea’s $22.6 million, Sweden’s $14.7 million and Mexico’s $12.1 million.

‘Nemo’ still afloat

“Nemo” caught $22.3 million, spurring cume to $458 million and ending the reign of “The Lion King” (which made $455 million) as the highest-grossing toon of all time overseas. Still the champ in Japan, Disney/Pixar pic netted $7.7 million in its fifth outing, elevating total to $69.6 million. In its sixth in France, “Nemo” hooked $4.6 million, cruising along to $55.6 million.

Boosted by the Shogatsu holidays in Japan, “The Last Samurai” jumped by 70%, scoring $7.1 million in its fifth stanza, which remarkably stands as its most lucrative frame. Cume soared to $61.1 million.

Resilient holdover biz saw “Love Actually” pull $6.4 million in 16 markets for UIP, pushing the distrib’s cume to $127.7 million. Add to that France’s ho-hum $6 million and Russia’s $2 million. Ensemble comedy has yukked up a superb $7 million in 11 days in Australia.

American Civil War saga “Cold Mountain” fetched $1.4 million on 194 Down Under, on par with “Chicago.” Miramax pic expanded from 135 to 180 prints in its second turn in Blighty, earning $1.5 million, to bring the market’s B.O. to a spry $3.1 million.

“Spy Kids 3D: Game Over” rustled up $2.2 million on 254 in Australia, driving cume to $46.8 million in 24 markets, already overtaking the lifetime totals of the first and second editions.

Fox’s comedy “Cheaper by the Dozen” sired $1.6 million on 370 in kid-friendly Mexico, with previews, its first major market.

‘Pan’ holding steady

“Peter Pan” is performing well so far without being anything special, conjuring up $8.4 million in 10 days in the U.K. (up 21%) and $4.1 million in 18 days in Australia (off 16%). P.J. Hogan-directed fantasy drew $366,000 on 29 in Malaysia, including sneaks, 25% bigger than “Stuart Little.”

Julia Roberts’ marquee name ensured fair debuts for “Mona Lisa Smile” in Singapore ($216,000 on 20) and Taiwan ($171,000 on 16). Pic eased by 25% in Mexico, where it’s pocketed a fine $2.1 million in 10 days.

After a pleasing run in Mexico, “Stuck on You” mustered $1.97 million on 298 in the U.K.. But the Farrelly brothers’ laffer didn’t stick in Germany ($1.2 million on 499), Austria and Switzerland.

Venturing to Oz after earning a respectable $6.1 million in Asia, the Rock headliner “The Rundown” (retitled “Welcome to the Jungle”) drew an army of action fans, generating $1.6 million on 143.

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