Foxy $2 billion puts 20th on top of global b.o.

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It was one of the biggest successes in animation history, a picture that earned more than $650 million at the worldwide boxoffice. But what might be most striking about 20th Century Fox's "Ice Age: The Meltdown" was that it reaped most of that money overseas -- $456 million, compared with $195 million domestically. "Meltdown" was the high point of a stellar 2006 for Fox's international division, a year that brought in slightly more than $2 billion internationally and proved that the News Corp. division was firing on all cylinders.

It is because of this and such global hits as "Night at the Museum" ($322 million outside North America), "The Devil Wears Prada" ($201 million) and "Eragon" ($174 million) that Fox International was the top grosser at the overseas boxoffice last year, earning the studio The Hollywood Reporter's International Boxoffice Achievement Award, to be presented at Cine Expo.

Fox's success is in good part thanks to the work of Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus, the Los Angeles-based co-presidents of Fox International Distribution. As leaders of a 470-person international work force, they have not only steered such blockbusters as "Meltdown" and "Museum" but also have made global successes of more modest films -- the sort of midbudget fare that often has been harder to sell overseas than franchises and tentpoles.

"We take a very intellectual approach to what we do, based on a lot of analysis and research before we go into the innovative phase (of marketing and distribution)," Jegeus says. "We figure out very carefully what the audience is and what they respond to, by market and region, and then the creative juices start flowing."

Those juices helped propel a whole range of Fox releases, including "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties" ($113 million internationally), "Big Momma's House 2" ($67 million), "The Sentinel" (41.5 million), "The Omen" ($65 million), "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" ($38 million) and "Date Movie" ($36 million). Even the Russell Crowe-Ridley Scott teaming "A Good Year," which tanked domestically, managed $33 million overseas. "When you start adding up these movies, it comes out to a big number," Hanneman adds.

Reaching that number was based on some shrewd marketing and dating decisions -- as "Meltdown" demonstrates.

"We were really excited about the film and knew we had something special and spent a lot of time localizing it with dubbing talent," Hanneman says. "For instance, in Germany we used Otto Waalkes, a very famous comedian there. And when you have local talent that is excited and willing to market a film, that does help."

Fox's success in these local markets comes at a time when many of them are turning away from Hollywood movies in favor of homegrown fare. While some studios have been investing near-fortunes in indigenous production, Fox has been relatively low-key in that arena.

"We don't produce the films ourselves, but we have acquired product very successfully in Latin America and Asia," Jegeus says. "We also have a deal with Sogepac in Spain and acquired 'Alatriste,' which was one of the biggest hits of last year. But we are now looking at several markets around the world where we will co-produce and co-invest in local pictures. India, South Korea and Japan are the ones where we have had the furthest-reaching discussions."

Japan, one of the most important territories in the world, also is one that is proving increasingly recalcitrant with U.S. studios.

"We have a new MD in Japan, and we have seen real turnaround since last fall," Hanneman says. "He did very well with 'The Devil Wears Prada' and 'Night at the Museum' -- and even 'Rocky Balboa' did over ¥1 billion ($8.2 million)."
The latter was the first MGM production to be released by Fox under a new pact for it to handle MGM's product overseas; thanks to that agreement, Fox also will distribute the next James Bond film internationally (so far untitled).

This summer, in addition to the just-released "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," Fox has "Live Free or Die Hard" (internationally it will be called "Die Hard 4.0") and "The Simpsons Movie." Future releases include the action thriller "Hitman"; "The Dark Is Rising" (its first joint venture with Walden Entertainment); "Alien vs. Predator 2"; "Alvin and the Chipmunks"; and the Hayden Christensen-Samuel L. Jackson sci-fi adventure "Jumper," directed by Doug Liman.

Perhaps most anticipated of all is "Avatar," James Cameron's first feature film since "Titanic."

"Paul and I went over to Lightstorm (Cameron's company) to see the conceptual drawings six months ago," Jegeus says. "It is just a fantastic story. We have seen the tests, and they look absolutely incredible."
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