‘Mamma’ is queen overseas

Foreign box office in tune with Universal

Universal’s “Mamma Mia!” came out singing overseas ahead of its domestic launch, dominating in English-speaking markets with $24 million on just 1,368 screens in a dozen territories for a stunning $17,536 per-location average.

The tuner, along with Sony’s “Hancock,” “Kung Fu Panda” and the Asian-territories debut of John Woo’s “Red Cliff,” set a torrid pace for a sizzling international box office frame. The four films combined for nearly $160 million, underscoring the resurgence of offshore biz after the Euro Cup soccer tourney held down moviegoing in June.

Given the competition from the top four pics, distribs and exhibs opted for modest day-and-date launches of the three domestic openers, with “Hellboy II” grossing a decent $5.3 million at 533, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” digging up $4.2 million in five markets and “Meet Dave” bagging a quiet $3.6 million at 918.

“Mamma Mia!” debuted smartly in the U.K. with $13.2 million and 34% share in the top Brit launch for a musical and U’s fourth-best opening in that market. Australia greeted “Mamma” warmly with $5.2 million and a 28% share for U’s second-best launch.

Scandinavia — home to Abba, composers of the musical’s songs — saw stellar returns with $1.6 million in Sweden, $1.3 million in Denmark and $635,000 in Norway.

Though musicals generally have a soft track record overseas, “Mamma Mia!” looks likely to run counter to that trend thanks to the massive success of the 9-year-old stage version, the international cast and the feel-good themes. Universal Intl. prexy David Kosse said the opening came in far above internal forecasts.

In addition to its Stateside launch, “Mamma Mia!” expands next weekend into Austria, Germany and Holland.

In Asia, “Red Cliff” enjoyed a boffo start as part one of the historical epic bowed in five territories to an opening weekend north of $23 million.

Pic, the most expensive Asian film ever, dominated in China with rough estimates of a $14.6 million launch weekend along with $6 million in South Korea and $1.9 million in Taiwan.

Showbox, the movie’s Korean investor and distributor, said the casting of Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro helped the pic score well with older demos.

In Hong Kong, the film faces stiff competition from “Kung Fu Panda” and “Hancock,” which are still playing on large numbers of screens.

The path in China for “Red Cliff’s” outing was largely clear, however, with considerably less competition. Also boosting its take is the fact that tickets to the biggest movies in China are often priced at premium rates on opening day.

Malaysia releases part one on Thursday, and Japan follows in November. The second part is skedded for January, likely coinciding with the Lunar New Year.

Action fans, meanwhile, continued flocking to “Hancock,” giving the pic an impressive $71.4 million at 8,125 playdates in 66 markets). Pic has already hit $180 million internationally in a dozen days.

Holdover markets declined just 45% and Sony execs upped their forecasts for a final “Hancock” foreign gross in the range of $350 million to $400 million, maintaining Will Smith’s sterling international record.

Par’s “Kung Fu Panda” hit the family demo with a beefy $41 million at 6,236 in 55 markets. The toon is performing solidly with strong holds to cume nearly $216 million.

July has helped pull overall overseas biz for the six major studios to about even with same point last year, which went on to set a record with $9.5 billion by the end 2007. Par is leading the way this year with $1.3 billion, thanks to “Panda,” “Iron Man” ($251 million) and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” the year’s top grosser at $441 million.

Fox is second with $1 billion, followed by Warner Bros. with $950 million, Disney with $750 million, U with $635 million and Sony with $580 million.

Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” is the year’s third-highest overseas grosser at $218 million, with another $12 million at 4,235 added over the weekend. And the Mouse House’s “Wall-E,” still early in its run but looking likely to be one of 2008’s biggest international draws, took in $7.4 million at 1,130 to lift its cume to $33 million.

(Patrick Frater in Hong Kong contributed to this report.)

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