Summer tentpoles stand tall overseas

'Shrek the Third' places first for fourth time

When it comes to international box office, Hollywood studios are wishing this summer would be truly endless.

With franchises performing at the high end of expectations overseas, the six major studios have seen summer grosses crank up to $4.26 billion — roughly 20% ahead of last summer.

The tale’s in the tentpoles, with the top five pics (the third iterations of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Spider-Man” and “Shrek,” the fifth “Harry Potter” pic plus “Transformers”) combining for $2.64 billion. By comparison, the top five summer movies last year (the second “Pirates” pic, “The Da Vinci Code,” “Mission: Impossible 3,” “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “Superman Returns”) combined for $1.76 billion, or 33% less than this summer’s figure.

The sharp contrast between the two summers may have been heightened by three factors: Soccer’s World Cup put a chill into international biz last summer; the weaker dollar has resulted in a more favorable exchange rate for cash from foreign multiplexes this summer; and cooler-than-normal summer temps this year in northern Europe may have goosed moviegoing.

But the overriding driver in 2007 has been the wide foreign appeal of recognizable titles, which included four more sequels (“Live Free or Die Hard,” “Ocean’s Thirteen,” “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” “The Bourne Ultimatum”) plus “The Simpsons Movie,” based on one of the world’s most-viewed TV shows. Even the one original tentpole, Disney’s “Ratatouille,” carried the well-known Pixar brand.

Distribution execs admit that earlier they had been fretting over franchise fatigue. “There was huge concern at the beginning of the summer as to how the blockbuster sequels would pan out at the box office, but now we know and audiences have spoken with their wallets,” said Par Intl. topper Andrew Cripps.

Execs also point out that summer launched exceptionally well, with “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” combining for $1.2 billion in overseas ticket sales. That initial burst — with trailers for upcoming fare attached — helped build buzz for every other summer pic.

As with its domestic performance, Universal’s “Evan Almighty” represented the only notable summer setback, taking in a moderate $47 million in its first 29 markets.

But generally, franchises showed so much summer traction overseas that studios — particularly U — opted to put the brakes on several major titles until the late summer and fall. “Knocked Up,” “Ratatouille” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” have yet to launch in a substantial number of international markets.

Warner Bros. and Disney both topped $900 million this summer, followed by Paramount with $864 million, Fox with $693 million, Sony with $670 million and Universal with $223 million.

The sizzling summer has also kept international business on track to finish well ahead of last year, when offshore grosses for the majors (Disney, Fox, Par, Sony, U and Warners) combined for a record-setting $8.6 billion. With nearly four months left, year-to-date overseas grosses have already eclipsed $7 billion, led by Warner Bros., with $1.68 billion, and followed by Fox with $1.38 billion, Par with $1.17 billion, Disney with $1.15 billion and U with $555 million.

Overseas prospects appear potentially bright for a variety of fall and winter fare, including “I Am Legend,” “Enchanted,” “American Gangster,” “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” and “The Heartbreak Kid.” In addition, “Ratatouille” has already totaled $189 million overseas with 50% of markets still to launch, starting next weekend with Australia.

The final summer frame exemplified the dominance of sequels, as “Shrek the Third” won for the fourth time with $17.7 million at 1,776 to push its international cume to $436.2 million. The ogre returned to first for the first time in two months thanks largely to solid launches in Italy and Scandinavia; the $10.8 million Italian opening represented the best animated debut in that market.

“Shrek the Third” may have enough gas in the tank to match the perf of “Shrek 2,” which finished its international run with $478 million.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” followed with $15.1 million in 31 markets, led by a $5 million launch in Australia — Universal’s biggest opening ever in that market. Matt Damon starrer held well in the U.K. with a 22% decline, leading for the third straight frame with $4.5 million as Brit biz totaled $35.7 million.

“Ultimatum” has cumed about $75 million overseas and is likely to top expectations by exceeding the $112 million final foreign cume for “The Bourne Supremacy.”

Disney’s “Ratatouille” led the rest of the pack with $10.1 million at 2,913 in 30 markets — half of that from its fifth French weekend with $5.2 million, off only 7%, for a $51 million cume, trailing only “Spider-Man 3” as the year’s top grosser in the territory.

“The Simpsons Movie” took the fourth slot with $7.7 million at 5,700 in 49 markets to push its foreign cume to $303.3 million — the sixth film this summer to cross the $300 million overseas milestone.

Warner’s eighth weekend of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” followed with $7.1 million to boost its international take to $627.8 million. It trails only “Titanic,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and the second and third “Pirates of the Caribbean” pics.

Other weekend biz saw “Knocked Up” with $6.4 million, “No Reservations” with $4.2 million, “Disturbia” with $4 million, “Evan Almighty” and “Transformers” with $3.5 million each, “1408” with $2.2 million in its British launch and “Surf’s Up” with $2.1 million.

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