‘Wolverine’ triumphs overseas

Film beats piracy, cashes in at foreign box office

The summer box office got off to a howling start as 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” opened to $73.1 million internationally over the May 1-3 weekend.

“Wolverine’s” theatrical box office seemed to weather a much-publicized attack by pirates.

In late March, a working copy of “Wolverine” was pirated and leaked on the Internet. By Fox’s count, the pirated copy has been downloaded at least 4.5 million times.

With day-and-date releases planned for many summer event titles, studios have learned to live with films being pirated as soon as they open. Having a film circulated weeks in advance of the opening is a far greater worry.

Had the copy been a more complete version, “Wolverine” could have been damaged even more at the box office.

“Wolverine” does appear to have been hurt in a handful of foreign markets, including Germany, South Korea and Thailand. In the vast majority of markets, the prequel saw some of the best numbers of any film in the “X-Men” franchise.

Fox insiders say they will never know how much piracy cost the film worldwide, but have floated a figure as high as $20 million.

Piracy has long been a problem in Germany, with illegal downloading growing in both Germany and Spain.

In Germany, “Wolverine” grossed $3.1 million, well behind the openings of the three previous films. “X2: X-Men United” opened to $8.2 million in Germany in 2003; “X-Men: The Last Stand” opened to $6 million in 2006.

Aside from the piracy, film wasn’t helped by negative reviews. And sunny weather likely kept Germans outside. But the chief culprit for the disappointing results was the increasing German desire to watch films at home, whether legally or illegally.

“Wolverine” opened to $2.3 million in South Korea, slightly behind the opening of the last pic, “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Film placed No. 2 in South Korea, behind local-language pic “Thirst.”

From director Park Chan-wook, “Thirst” grossed an impressive $4.1 million. Film will be in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, which gets under way this week.

Fox also expected “Wolverine” to do better in Thailand, where it grossed $1.2 million.

The good news was that in Malaysia and the Singapore –also rife with piracy–“Wolverine” boomed, marking Fox’s best opening ever in both markets. It grossed $1.5 million in Singapore and $1.2 million Malaysia.

“Wolverine’s” bow was bountiful almost everywhere else, led by the U.K. at $9.8 million from 489. That’s the biggest opening of the year to date.

Pic also nabbed the best debut of the year in France, where it earned $6.9 million on 700 in its first five days.

Third-best showing was in Australia at $5.8 million.

In Italy, “Wolverine” grossed $3.7 million, bowing way ahead of both Disney’s “Hannah Montana: The Movie” ($1.6 million) and Universal’s “State of Play” ($1.1 million).

“Wolverine” wasn’t just affected by piracy; because of the flu outbreak, Fox had to delay the opening of the film in Mexico, a huge territory for the franchise.

Without these factors, Fox insiders say “Wolverine’s” international debut probably would have at least matched the domestic opening, which came in at $85 million.

“Wolverine” kicked off a busy summer season at the international box office, which will be jam-packed with Hollywood tentpoles. Next up is “Star Trek,” opening day and date in most major territories, save Japan and Mexico.

Until now, the “Star Trek” film franchise has been largely a domestic property. Last film — “Star Trek: Nemesis” opened in 2002. Since then, studios have come to depend even more on foreign grosses, so the pressure is on for “Star Trek” to cultivate new international fans.

David Hayhurst in Paris, Ed Meza in Berlin, Emilio Mayorga in Barcelona, Han Sunhee in Seoul and Nick Vivarelli in Rome contributed to this report.