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‘Indy’ bumps up 2008 o’seas B.O.

International auds aid Hollywood in tough year

Amid the worldwide economic recession, international moviegoers played a starring role in keeping Hollywood out of the doldrums in 2008.

Thanks to solid traction by tentpoles in overseas markets, the six major studios saw year-end grosses rise 4% to $9.9 billion — a particularly impressive achievement given the strengthened dollar, which means fewer greenbacks when converted from foreign currencies.

Early estimates placed Paramount at $2 billion, followed by Warner Bros. at $1.8 billion, Universal at $1.71 billion, Fox at $1.67 billion with Disney and Sony tied at $1.37 billion.

Nearly 70% of Par’s overseas grosses came from distributing “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” ($469 million), “Kung Fu Panda” ($416 million), “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” ($283 million as of Dec. 28) and Marvel’s “Iron Man” ($214 million, with non-Paramount territories accounting for $49 million more). No other Par pic crossed the $100 million mark with “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and “Cloverfield” coming closest with $91 million each.

Par’s only the third studio to hit the $2 billion mark, joining Warner and Fox. Warner set the record of $2.2 billion in 2004 and hit $2.15 billion in 2007, while Fox cleared the mark in 2006 and in 1998 with “Titanic.”

Par added to its lead during the final frame of 2008 with “Madagascar 2” easily winning for the third time in four weekends with $36 million at 6,211 playdates in 58 markets. The toon’s actual weekend number rose 16% (or $5 million) from the original estimate, led by an eye-popping 52% jump in Italy to $9.8 million for a cume of $21.1 million.

France edged down only 6% in its third frame of “Madagascar 2” to $5.1 million for a cume of $31.2 million while Germany slid 24% to $4.25 million for a cume of $34.2 million. And many markets saw their grosses rise including Belgium (up 27% to $935,000), Denmark (up 37% to $206,000), Israel (up 207% to $805,000), the Netherlands (up 176% to $970,000_ and Hong Kong (up 90% to $760,000).

“Madagascar 2” outdistanced Fox’s expansion of “Australia,” with Baz Luhrmann’s pricey epic pulling in a respectable rather than blockbuster $27.2 million at 4,500 in 51 territories to push pic’s foreign cume to $48.1 million — $4 million above the disappointing domestic total — with the best figures from openings in France with $4.65 million and Spain with $4.5 million.

Fox also continued to draw decently for “The Day the Earth Stood Still” with $20.4 million at 6,500 in 62 markets, led by its $5.7 million opening in South Korea. The sci-fi remake has hit $105 million overseas grosses, eclipsing the Stateside total by $42 million.

“Day” marked only the fourth Fox pic to hit the century mark overseas and the first since last spring. “What Happens in Vegas,” “Jumper” and “Horton Hears a Who” combined for nearly $500 million early but only “The Happening” came close during the summer with $98 million and many of its entries such as the “X-Files” sequel, “Max Payne” and “Meet the Spartans” didn’t get to $50 million.

Disney’s day-and-date launch of “Bedtime Stories” pulled in $13.5 million at 2,002 in 15 markets and “Bolt” opened impressively in China with a $1.3 million launch in 136 venues — all of them 3-D, which allowed the toon to be released outside China’s 20-picture annual quota for foreign films.

Even as Disney reduces the volume of titles, it racked up its 14th straight year over $1 billion in foreign grosses and its fifth highest figure ever. “Wall-E” led the way with $289.5 million followed by “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” with $278 million.

Warner Bros. closed the year relatively quietly with “Yes Man” taking $9.5 million at 1,385 in 14 territories, scoring its top figure in the U.K. with a $3.5 million debut, and opened “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” solely in Australia with $2.2 million. With “The Dark Knight” taking in $466 million and “I Am Legend” scoring most of its coin in 2008, the blockbusters overcame disappointing perfs by “Speed Racer” at $49 million and “Body of Lies” at $62 million.

Universal also ended 2008 modestly with “The Tale of Despereaux” taking $5 million at 1,815 in 10 markets to push the toon’s foreign cume to $7 million. U broke its all-time in the early fall amid impressive perfs by “Mamma Mia” with $428 million and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” with $270 million.

Sony opted for a trio of year-end launches with “The Spirit” conjuring up $3 million at 580 in Italy and Spain while “Seven Pounds” weighed in with $1.3 million in Brazil. The studio took in about half of its foreign coin from “Hancock” with $392 million and “Quantum of Solace” with $376 million.

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