Time Warner takes gold in o’seas derby

Almost all the majors had something to celebrate in '04

In the end, it wasn’t even close. Time Warner romped home to win the U.S. majors’ 2004 box office derby overseas, racing to an industry record of $2.6 billion, including Warner Bros., and New Line International.

Disney’s Buena Vista Intl. and Miramax together generated $1.9 billion, good for second place despite a frenetic finish to the year with “The Incredibles” and “National Treasure.”

Almost all the majors had something to celebrate as four studios crossed $1 billion internationally and UIP, repping Paramount, Universal and DreamWorks, surged to $2.09 billion, a company record. Despite its corporate travails, Miramax posted an all-time high last year abroad.

The Hollywood companies — including mini-majors Miramax, New Line and Focus — racked up $9.2 billion overseas, eclipsing 2003’s $8.2 billion. That figure eliminates the overlap between some studios’ releases (see chart).

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All the studios’ results are flattered by the U.S. dollar’s weakness vs. major offshore currencies. The greenback dropped by an average of 9.7% against the euro and by 6.6% against the yen, according to Warners.

WB Intl. distribution president Veronika Kwan-Rubinek said 60% of her division’s revenues were generated in Europe, so the exchange rate had a significant impact.

Even so, the strength of Warners’ product, including “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” ($540 million), “Troy” ($364 million) and “The Last Samurai” ($298 million in the calendar year) saw the studio’s B.O. jump by 34% over its 2003 tally.

Demonstrating its consistency, the studio has won the majors’ B.O. derby for three of the past four years (BVI was the champ in 2003).

Warners Intl. marketing prexy Sue Kroll took particular pleasure from “The Polar Express,” which defied industry pundits by crossing $100 million abroad last weekend.

“Everyone was wrong — everyone was too quick to judge,” said Kroll, referring to the critics of the Robert Zemeckis-helmed CGI pic. “It benefited from word of mouth. We always knew it would do well.”

The currency differences are offset by the majors’ rising overheads and expenses in their field offices. And as one U.S. exec noted, while the weak dollar boosts the bottom-line results of the hits, it worsens the losses for the clunkers.

BVI prexy Mark Zoradi is proud that his banner recorded its second biggest result ever after its 2003 peak, with six films that each minted more than $100 million, matching its 1997 record.

“Our net contribution was very close to our best year because we bet on the right pictures and carefully watched distribution expenses,” he added.

BVI’s winners were led by “The Incredibles” ($262 million), “King Arthur” ($149 million), “Brother Bear” ($145 million in calendar 2004) and “The Village” ($142 million).

As another bellwether of a robust year, 25 titles surpassed $100 million internationally in 2004, one more than in 2003.

UIP prexy-COO Andrew Cripps was thrilled to have seven films each rack up more than $100 million.

DreamWorks saw a spectacular rebound last year, thanks to “Shrek 2,” “Shark Tale” and “The Terminal.” Fox had healthy spikes from “The Day After Tomorrow” ($442 million), “I, Robot” and surprise breakout “Garfield: The Movie.”

Sony improved on 2003, bolstered by “Spider-Man 2’s” $410 million and solid hits “Gothika” and “50 First Dates.”

Universal had a home run with “Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason” and singles and doubles with “Van Helsing” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”

And it was a memorable year for U’s Focus Features, which resonated strongly with “Lost in Translation,” “21 Grams,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Bad Education.”

But Par dropped back a bit, with “Collateral’s” $117 million its only hefty earner.