Summer franchises fulfill promise

International audiences surrender to Hollywood

The summer of 2007 has lived up to its promise on the international side, validating the big bets placed by studios on mega-franchises.

For the first time ever, five summer films – Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” Sony’s “Spider-Man 3,” Warner’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and Paramount’s “Shrek the Third” and “Transformers” – will gross over $400 million outside the United States.

Last year saw four tentpoles (“Pirates 2,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “Ice Age 2,” “Casino Royale”) go past $400 million internationally but only two managed the feat during the summer season.

International audiences have surrendered this summer to formula of bringing together big stars, special effects and easy-to-understand storylines.

Only 25 films, including the third versions of “Pirates” and Spidey, have ever crossed the $400 million milestone that club’s going to expand soon. Both “Shrek 3” (at $388 million as of Tuesday) and “Harry Potter 5” ($381 million on Tuesday) should become new members this weekend.

And “Transformers” has been a breakout success internationally, already hitting $200 million overseas without yet opening in the four biggest markets – the France, Germany, Japan and the U.K. — and rivals believe it’s likely to wind up well over $400 million internationally.

The foreign coin’s been particularly helpful in burnishing the overall performance of the third versions of “Pirates,” “Spider-Man” and “Shrek” – all which saw domestic totals edge down from the second iteration. The size of the international contribution to the worldwide total grew from 60% to 68% on “Pirates 3”; from 52% to 62% on “Spider-Man 3”; and from 52% to 55% on “Shrek 3.”

“Spider-Man 3” took in over $550 million outside the United States, 25% higher than “Spider-Man 2”; “Shrek the Third” has already taken in 84% of the final foreign gross for “Shrek 2”; and “Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End” hit a milestone Tuesday with $642.3 million in foreign grosses as it eclipsed its predecessor and became the fourth highest grosser of all time.

After nine weeks, it’s still at 2,958 international playdates so it may be able to catch “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at $651 million for the third slot. But it obviously won’t surpass “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” at $742 million or “Titanic” at $1.2 billion.

The presence of so many tentpoles in the foreign marketplace this summer provoked concerns that they might cannibalize each other. But Disney execs believe the opposite may have occurred.

“Getting people out of the house for big event movies like ours leads to them getting out of the house again,” noted Anthony Marcoly, president of Walt Disney Motion Picture Group Intl. “I’ve always been a big believer in the idea that a competitive environment presents opportunities.”

Along the way, “Pirates 3” set records for best five-day opening international weekend at $216 million, fastest to $300 million (nine days), $400 million (12 days), $500 million (20 days) and $600 million (38 days).

Coincidentally, Disney also topped the $1 billion in international grosses for this year, following in the footsteps of Sony and Warner Bros. It’s the 13th year in a row that Disney’s cleared the milestone.

Fox, which is opening “The Simpsons Movie” day and date in 71 foreign markets this weekend, should be hitting the $1 billion mark in the next few weeks in the wake of performances by the “Die Hard” and “Fantastic Four” sequels.

With Paramount making it past the mark by the end of the year, 2007 would be the first year that five studios have gone past $1 billion each in foreign grosses.

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