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Summer takeoffs stack up o’seas

Pressure drives studios to count on big foreign B.O.

No matter whether you live in Peoria, Paris or Peru, you’ll be able to see most Hollywood tentpoles at the same time this summer.

Virtually all studios are accelerating their releases overseas during the blockbuster season. Saddled with a brutally competitive U.S. market — with as many as five wide releases stacked up on key weekends — the majors face heightened pressure to recoup their cost in foreign movie houses. And robust international grosses on pics like “Alexander” and “Closer” have proven that under-achievers at home can become over-achievers abroad.

A few years ago, day-and-date campaigns weren’t the industry norm. But international execs now recognize that if they dither, the pirates and file-swappers will jump in and Internet buzz — for better or worse — will zip around the globe.

“Waiting for three or four months after domestic to release our bigger pictures is not something we do anymore: There is too much money at stake,” says Fox Intl. exec VP Paul Hanneman.

Most day-and-date campaigns will have jumbo-sized print runs and marketing spends to match. Three years ago, “Star Wars: Episode II,” was released on 8,800 prints around the globe, a bold gambit at the time. But the print run of “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” — hitting theaters worldwide (except Japan) on May 19 — is expected to be even higher.

One factor driving the day-and-date global campaigns is that the foreign market isn’t gridlocked like the Stateside market. Unlike 2004 when the Euro soccer championships in June-July and the Athens Olympics in August forced distribs to compress many films into the May and July corridors, U.S. tentpoles will be spread a bit more evenly across the summer.

Without any such distractions, UIP prexy-chief operating officer Andrew Cripps says, “This summer looks slightly less competitive than last year.”

However, Cripps is quick to add, “Come the summer, it will probably look as busy as ever, because there will be films we didn’t know about that will surprise us.”

Studios are loath to discuss how much they outlay but privately say the P&A spending overseas on the tentpoles will range from $60 million to $80 million this year. Some execs say that’s up by 6%-8% on 2004, while others acknowledge they are facing hikes of 10%-20%, mainly due to inflation in media costs.

Near day-and-date releases are more expensive than those with staggered rollouts, chiefly because distribs have to use new prints and pay overtime to get films dubbed and subtitled quickly.

Also, some execs say they need to spend more on TV and outdoor advertising because films that go out on the heels of domestic don’t get as much benefit from the publicity and buzz generated in the U.S. as pics with a longer lead time.

Studio chieftains now expect most of their tentpoles to perform significantly better overseas than at home. Witness the overseas grosses of “Troy,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “The Incredibles” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

“It’s a bit assumed (that foreign results will be bigger) when studios make their greenlighting decisions,” Buena Vista Intl. exec VP Anthony Marcoly says.

The summer’s 800-pound gorilla is Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” which UIP plans to release in 78 countries June 29, simultaneously with the domestic campaign.

“We are planning to be out internationally with over 9,500 prints, which would be UIP’s biggest release ever,” says Cripps. “It’s a global event picture and comes just as most of the world heads into summer and school holidays.”

Fox, which last week moved its U.S. bow for “The Fantastic Four” off the opening weekend of “War of the Worlds,” is determined to give Spielberg’s pic a wide berth. Comicbook adaptation (which now opens Stateside July 8) is slated for July 7 in Australia and Singapore, the following day in Italy, Latin America and South Korea, and a week later in France, Spain and Russia. Its last date is Sept. 17 in Japan.

The day-and-date blitz kicks off with Sony’s “XXX: Head of State” (which bows April 29 domestically), followed by Fox’s “Kingdom of Heaven” (May 6) and UIP’s “Kicking and Screaming” (May 13).

Warner Bros. will roll out “Batman Begins” (June 17 domestically), “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (July 15) and Michael Bay’s “The Island (July 22 via DreamWorks) in most markets within a month of the U.S. The Batpic and “The Island” will go out on around 8,000 prints, while the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp family pic will be released on around 7,000.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had three big films in the summer before,” says WB Intl. theatrical prez Veronika Kwan-Rubinek.

Warners Intl. marketing prez Sue Kroll adds says the studio will tailor the campaign for “Charlie” in different markets, given varying degrees of awareness of the eponymous book. “We will have to educate some territories about what the story is,” she says.

Sony is readying eight films for spring/summer, including “The Longest Yard” remake (May 27 domestic via Paramount; June through October abroad), the Nicole Kidman/Will Ferrell starrer “Bewitched” (July 8; July through October overseas), and director Rob Cohen’s sci-fier “Stealth” (July 29; August in most of international).

Sony Intl. senior exec VP Mark Zucker says: “We’re getting all the runs we want. We have big stars and a very eclectic lineup.”

While some studios are dubious about “Longest Yard’s” prospects, given its gridiron theme, Zucker is confident the prison buddy comedy will travel well. He notes Sandler broadened his appeal globally with “50 First Dates,” which grossed $74.7 million internationally (it’s yet to open in Japan) and made a profit in every market.

The distrib is dating its Chinese-lingo action-comedy “Kung Fu Hustle” for Europe in June after it rustled up a tidy $63 million in Asia: “I think we can own the action crowd and teens in June,” Zucker says.

With DreamWorks toon “Madagascar” (May 27 domestic), UIP is following the “Shrek 2” release pattern: late May in Southeast Asia, June 16 in Oz, late June/early July in Latin America and for most of Europe, and Sept. 2 in Italy.

Fox is rolling out New Regency’s Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie starrer “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” in most of its markets within two weeks of the June 10 domestic bow.

BVI will launch six pics, starting with the graphically violent B&W pic “Sin City” (April 1 via Miramax; late May/June abroad, probably after it screens at the Cannes fest); romantic comedy “A Lot Like Love” (April 22; also May/June); and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (April 29; day-and-date in Australia and the U.K., rest of the world in June/July).

Russell Crowe starrer “Cinderella Man” (June 3) is booked for June/July in Australia, Asia and Latin America, but will debut in Europe in September after the fall fests.

As studios seek to minimize their risks on escalating production budgets, this year sees a growing number of co-productions, where one major handles domestic and another takes foreign. That can make it tricky to harmonize release dates and campaigns.

But Warners’ Kroll says her team is working harmoniously with their counterparts at DreamWorks on “The Island,” noting, “We’re developing campaigns simultaneously and sharing everything.”

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