‘Watchmen’ battle superhero bias

Marvel aims to boost comicbook pics overseas

Last week, comicbook giant Marvel said it was forming an international advisory board to boost the profile of its superheroes overseas.

Marvel’s announcement came on the heels of the day-and-date release of Watchmen,” adapted from the iconic graphic novel about a group of brooding and violent superheroes who aren’t as broadly known as characters like Batman, Superman and Spidey.

“Watchmen” still easily led the sesh at the international B.O., grossing $28.6 million. Debut was considered solid, but not a home run. A big draw was director Zack Snyder, whose previous film “300” –loosely based on the ancient Spartan-Persian battle, was a smash hit overseas.

As a rule, superhero pics don’t receive the same love at the foreign box office that they do in North America. There are exceptions, of course, such as the “Spider-Man” franchise. Otherwise, superhero tentpoles usually gross more domestically — including “The Dark Knight” ($533.3 million vs. $468.5 million overseas).

“Watchmen” placed No. 1 in a number of territories, led by the U.K., where pic opened to $4.6 million. That’s half the opening gross of “300.”

In Germany, “Watchmen” came in No. 3, grossing $2 million. It was beat out by the launch of 20th Century Fox’s “Marley and Me” ($3 million) and “The Reader” ($2.9 million).

More than any other territory, Germany has come to epitomize the resistance that superhero pics can face at the foreign B.O. Take Paramount’s “Iron Man.” Film cumed $8.6 million in Germany, compared to $19.2 million in France, $12 million in Spain and $11 million in Italy. It’s a pattern repeated again and again.

International studio execs offer several possible reasons for the German phenomenon. Before the wall came down, East Germans didn’t have easy access to comicbooks. Box office observers will be watching carefully to see how “Watchmen” does in its second outing.

Coming in No. 2 behind “Watchmen” over the March 6-8 frame was Oscar winner “Slumdog Millionaire,” which grossed north of $13 million at the international box office for a cume of at least $110 million.

Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” placed No. 3, cuming a handy $11.6 million, and beating “Watchmen” in Spain and France. Eastwood is sometimes even more popular overseas than in the U.S. — “Changeling” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” grossed more abroad than at home.

“Torino” enjoyed the best bow for an Eastwood-helmed feature ever in Gaul, and was only off 21% in its second frame. In its first 10 days, pic has grossed $10.9 million in France.

Based on film’s initial results overseas, Warners is already predicting that “Torino” will become Eastwood’s highest grossing pic at the international box office, eclipsing the $127 million international total for “Million Dollar Baby.”

Bookers in Spain had upbeat expectations for “Torino,” but no one foresaw the level of business. “Torino” grossed $2.7 million off a moderate print count of 235. Per-location average of $11,421 was the best of any film since “Hancock’s” $12,231 in July 2008.

“A key factor was the announcement by Eastwood that this was his last performance in a movie,” one distrib noted.

Other notable performers at the foreign B.O. for the sesh included 20th Century Fox’s “Marley and Me,” which only now has begun making its major push abroad. Comedy came in No. 4 overall, grossing $8.2 million for a foreign cume of $33 million.

“The Reader” also continues to be a draw, placing No. 6 at the international B.O. Film grossed $5.1 million for a foreign cume of $20.5 million.

David Hayhurst in Paris, John Hopewell in Madrid and Nick Vivarelli in Rome contributed to this report.