Universal titles are golden overseas

Film nab best year at foreign box office

Universal’s golden overseas summer has extended into the early fall.

The studio’s slate — led by “Mamma Mia!,” “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” and “Wanted” — has provided a tonic to the foreign box office at a time when moviegoing tends to soften significantly.

That trio’s provided more than half of the $1.4 billion in overseas box office that Universal’s taken in as of Sept. 23. The performance is already the best ever for U, which split up its longtime UIP partnership with Paramount last year, topping the final 1999 total by more than $200 million.

U trails only Paramount and Warner Bros. in international grosses this year. And against all expectations, “Mamma Mia!” has become one of the most successful films in recent years, thanks largely to its overseas performance.

The Abba-inspired tuner’s turned in three straight first-place finishes in September and had cumed $338 million internationally as of Sept. 23. With a dozen markets left to open and holdover biz still cooking, “Mamma” appears to be a lock to join the club of 30 pics that have topped the $400 million mark in overseas grosses.

The U.K. has been the most stellar “Mamma” market, with $119.2 million in 11 weeks — now the fourth highest in that market after “Titanic” and the first iterations of “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter.” The Brit total trails the American cume by a mere $22 million.

Germany’s cume has gone past $35 million, Australia’s topped $28 million and Spain’s at $17 million. And Scandinavia has been a gold mine for “Mamma,” with well over $45 million. Sweden, home to Abba, is nearing $20 million and Norway has topped $14 million, while Finland and Denmark have gone past $6 million each.

It’s a similar story for the third “Mummy,” which has far outperformed the domestic take of $102 million. The foreign takes have been impressive in a wide variety of markets, with the total nearing $280 million, led by $27 million in Russia, $26 million in South Korea, $21 million in the U.K., $18 million each in both China and Spain, $16 million in Germany and $15 million in Mexico.

“Wanted” has never led the foreign box office but has quietly managed to approach the $180 million mark outside the United States — or $45 million more than its domestic cume. Russia has been the top market with $26 million — no surprise since it’s the homeland of director Timur Bekmambetov — followed by $19 million each in South Korea and the U.K.

“Wanted” posted the top single territory number during the Sept. 19-21 frame with $7.7 million in Japan, including previews. That’s a reflection of studios opting to use the early fall for expanding summer pics into a few targeted markets.

Par’s “Tropic Thunder,” for example, began widening into major markets and wound up the frame with a respectable $8.4 million at 1,600 playdates — more than half of that from its U.K. launch. The laffer had cumed $32 million as of Sept. 23 in foreign grosses from 26 markets led by $8 million from Australia.

The season’s seeing a mix of tentpole holdovers plus more offbeat American and locals offerings. In Italy, “Hancock” held on to the top spot with takings of $3.55 million despite a 55% drop from its launch frame as the Will Smith vehicle neared $400 million in foreign grosses.

The Coen Brothers’ “Burn After Reading” took in a respectable $2.83 million after Medusa sent out 401 copies, making a decent $7,061 average. And 2008 Italo box office champ “Kung Fu Panda” still managed to take $1.5 million from 446 screens in its fourth frame — enough to bump the cume up to $23.1 million.

In France, “Parlez-moi de la pluie” (Let It Rain), a dramedy toplining helmer Agnes Jaoui, took in a respectable $2.8 million on 443 prints.

And in South Korea, which celebrated the Chusok holiday weekend, the second frame of local actioner “The Divine Weapon” held on to first place with $4 million, edging the second weekend of “Mamma Mia!”

Han Sunhee in Seoul, David Hayhurst in Paris and Michael Day in Rome contributed to this report.

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