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Indie spirit takes hold of o’seas auds

Boffo biz abroad as tix sales hit $12.5 billion

For the U.S. majors collectively, 2004 was a banner year at the international B.O. — but it was also bountiful for indie distribs and local producers around the world. Ticket sales outside North America hit $12.5 billion, according to extensive research by 20th Century Fox, with the Hollywood heavyweights accounting for $9.2 billion and everyone else combining for $3.3 billion.

That eclipses the 2003 tally that the Motion Picture Assn. estimated at $10.1 billion.

The total does not include the grosses of Bollywood product, which dominates the Indian market or Chinese pics’ earnings in China.

The Hollywood companies, including such mini-majors as Miramax and New Line, rang up their record $9.2 billion overseas last year, with pics like “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Shrek 2,” versus their $8.2 billion perf in 2003 (Daily Variety, Jan. 4).

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A study compiled by Joe Ortiz, exec director of sales administration at Fox Intl., indicates all other product –French movies, German movies, co-productions, U.S. pics not distributed by U.S. companies, etc. — generated at least $3.3 billion. It’s the first time such an in-depth report has apparently been generated to detail what the non-U.S. majors did at foreign wickets.

“The Passion of the Christ” was the top non-major earner abroad, clocking $240 million, according to producer/international sales rep Icon. The second biggest was Japanese toon “Howl’s Moving Castle,” which racked up $134 million in its home market and South Korea and was still No. 1 in Japan last weekend in its seventh outing.

Indie product also accounted for a chunk of Hollywood’s $9.2 billion, which includes films from Miramax, New Line and Focus Features that were sold to various distribs around the world.

Ortiz tracked 60 films that each grossed more than $45 million in 2004, plus numerous titles that made lesser amounts.

The U.S. dollar totals for last year were enhanced by the weakness of the greenback against most major currencies. Buena Vista Intl. prez Mark Zoradi estimates that boosted grosses by 7%-8%.

Increasingly hungry for local acquisitions, the majors scored some notable successes last year. Warner Bros. raked in $167 million from pickups and co-productions, around 27% more than its endeavors in that sector in 2003.

Warner’s clicks included France’s “A Very Long Engagement” ($38 million), Turkey’s “G.O.R.A.” ($17 million) and “Vizontele 2” ($14 million) and two acquisitions in Japan, China’s “House of Flying Daggers” ($20 million) and South Korea’s “Windstruck” ($10 million).

Universal/UIP harvested $54 million from releasing Teutonic fairytale spoof “Seven Dwarfs” in German-speaking markets.

The MPA’s stats show a healthy year-on-year climb in the international B.O., rising from $7.5 billion in 1999 to $7.8 billion in 2000, $8 billion in 2001 and $9.6 billion in 2002.

And some Hollywood execs say those numbers are conservative estimates.