Foreign Rescue for Homegrown Duds

20th Century Fox

Ever hear of BRIC? Studios are learning it's a new ally in international boxoffice.

When it comes to a movie's box-office performance, Americans -- and the media -- are myopic. If a film doesn't work in the U.S., it's a bomb.

But several films that have underperformed domestically in recent months have done huge business overseas, from small indies to studio tentpoles. The international box office is exploding thanks in part to a growing middle class in four key markets referred to as the "BRIC" countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China.

For instance, when the 3D underwater-adventure pic Sanctum topped out at only $23.3 million in North America, everyone wrote off the movie, released domestically by Universal. But Sanctum, executive produced by James Cameron, has gone on to earn $62.3 million internationally.

"Sanctum was made for $28 million and has already grossed $85 million worldwide, and we still have China and Japan to open, which we think will be substantial," says FilmNation's Glen Basner, whose sales and financing company handled foreign rights and is guiding the international marketing campaign.

Sanctum has done huge business in Russia ($8.6 million) and Brazil ($5.5 million), where audiences responded to the action and 3D. It has also done well in Italy ($4.5 million).

Fox's Gulliver's Travels is even more striking. The Jack Black comedy was a holiday bomb domestically, grossing just $42.8 million on a production budget of about $110 million. But overseas, it has grossed $187.1 million. It makes sense that the film worked so well in territories like the U.K., where the Jonathan Swift book was popular. But it has also done great in Mexico and Russia, where 3D is powering box office.

"Russia has embraced 3D to such an extent that 2D movies can suffer," Fox International co-chief Paul Hanneman says.

Gulliver's was one of the first Hollywood studio pics to open in Japan following the devastating earthquake, and it has done big business, grossing $10.5 million during its first three weeks.

Fox also saw greater returns overseas for the latest Chronicles of Narnia film and Fox Searchlight's 127 Hours. The Danny Boyle film earned just $18.3 million in the U.S. but pulled in $39.2 million abroad. In the U.K., 127 Hours grossed $12.5 million, buoyed by Boyle being British.

Talent also fueled GK Films' The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. The movie grossed a massive $209 million overseas, indicating that star power still matters for foreign audiences, particularly in China and Japan, where Tourist generated big receipts.           

SUMMER SHOWDOWN BEGINS OVERSEAS

For the first time, the initial two event movies of summer -- Fast Five and Thor --opened at the international box office before bowing in the U.S. (ditto for Fox's Easter 3D toon Rio). The two pics are now waging war overseas in a handful of territories; the mighty Thor has a much bigger footprint, but Fast Five is more than holding its own. "I think it does show there's enough room at the international boxoffice for several big films at once," Paramount International president Andrew Cripps says. "It's great to see this kind of summer business so early."

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