‘Mamma Mia!’ sings happy toon abroad

Universal's adaptation grosses $24.5 million

Forget all the rules about the foreign box office — beginning with the adage that American musicals don’t play overseas.

Bowing in only a dozen territories over the July 11-13 weekend, Universal’s bigscreen adaptation “Mamma Mia!” grossed a dazzling $24.5 million from 1,407 playdates for a boffo per location average of $17,410. That’s quite a start.

Musical opened overseas one week ahead of its domestic launch, placing No. 4 at the international box office.

Move gave “Mamma Mia!” some breathing room before Warner Bros. begins to roll out Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel “The Dark Knight.” Historically, “Batman” pics haven’t traveled terribly well outside the U.S., but look for “Dark Knight” to break this pattern.

Coming in No. 1 internationally for the July 11-13 frame was Sony’s Will Smith starrer “Hancock,” which grossed $70.9 million from 8,099 playdates in its second sesh for a foreign cume of $179.8 million in only a dozen days.

With holdover markets declining just 45%, Sony execs upped their forecasts for a final “Hancock” foreign gross to an ambitious $350 million to $400, pointing to Smith’s sterling international record.

DreamWorks Animation and Paramount’s “Kung Fu Panda” also pleased, coming in No. 2 for the sesh and jumping the $200 million mark. Toon grossed $45.3 million from 6,314 runs for a cume of $221.6 million in its sixth weekend.

The only non-Hollywood pic making a big splash internationally over the July 11-13 frame was John Woo’s Chinese action-adventure “Red Cliff,” which got off to a boffo start in Asia and came in No. 3 overall. “Red Cliff” tallied $23 million as it debuted in five territories.

“Red Cliff” grossed an estimated $14.6 million in China, $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 Europe, “Mamma Mia!” sang up a storm at the Blighty box office, grossing $13.2 million to beat holdover “Hancock” for No. 1. That’s the best Brit launch ever for a musical and U’s fourth-best opening ever in that territory.

It makes sense that the film is doing well. The stage version, composed by Swedish band Abba, has been seen by some 30 million and grossed $2 billion since its debut on London’s West End nearly a decade ago. Also, the film features an international cast.

In Scandinavia, “Mamma Mia!” saw stellar returns with $1.6 million from Sweden, $1.3 million from Denmark and $635,000 in Norway. In addition to its July 18 Stateside launch, “Mamma Mia!” expands next into Austria, Germany and Holland.

“Hancock” still did tidy business in the U.K., grossing $7.37 million for a cume of $33.5 million.

Also in the U.K., “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” playing in digital 3-D wherever possible, grossed a solid $1.9 million. Overall, “Journey” grossed $3.9 million in its international debut over the July 11-13 weekend from only 637 runs.

Spanish exhibs were over the moon about the weekend’s stellar box office performance, led off by the launch of “Kung Fu Panda.” Toon grossed $6.2 million on 585 for a strong per location average of $10,513.

“The best thing about ‘Panda’ is that it’s got a clear ride until ‘Wall-E’ opens Aug. 6,” one Spanish booker said.

With the conclusion of the Euro Cup soccer tournament, which muted moviegoing across the continent, the July box office has seen a much-needed uptick.

Over the July 11-13 weekend, “Hancock,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “Red Cliff” and “Mamma Mia!” did a combined $160 million in grosses.

With the uptick, six major Hollywood studios are running about even with last year in terms of international box office grosses. Last year set a record with $9.5 billion.

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 international 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.

Ali Jaafar in the U.K., Ed Meza in Germany, Patrick Frater in Hong Kong, Michael Day in Italy and Emilio Mayorga in Spain contributed to this report.

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