Par and potent pals power b.o.

Indy, Iron Man and a plucky panda drive studio's midyear dominance

Thanks to films from Marvel, DreamWorks Animation and the team of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Paramount Pictures has become the first studio to sell $1 billion worth of tickets in the domestic marketplace this year.

In its rush to dominate North America with a crew that includes Iron Man, Indiana Jones, a kung fu-fighting panda and a somewhat luckless love guru, Paramount bettered the record that it set last year by nearly three weeks.

In 2007, it took Paramount — then fueled by "Shrek the Third" and "Transformers" — until July 9 to get the fastest-to-$1 billion record. Sony had established the standard on July 11, 2002, on the strength of the first "Spider-Man" movie.

Paramount also is the first studio of 2008 to blow past the nine-zero mark in foreign boxoffice. It reached that last weekend, six weeks faster than it did in setting the same record last year. (Internationally, Fox is on Paramount's heels as it closes in on $1 billion.)

The Melrose Avenue studio also boasts the year's three top-grossing movies: "Iron Man" ($305 million), "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" ($291 million) and "Kung Fu Panda" ($156 million).

The fact that the studio gets to wear the boxoffice market-share crown doesn't directly reflect its own fortunes, however, since the profits on its biggest movies are being divvied up by others.

Paramount will take home distribution fees on "Iron Man" and "Panda" while seeing most of the profits on "Indiana Jones" go to the filmmakers.

"Iron Man" was produced by Marvel Studios, which pays Paramount a distribution fee under a 2005 deal. Given that movie's runaway success, analysts have estimated that Paramount will take home $50 million-$60 million for its efforts. But Marvel itself will reap the lion's share of the rewards on a movie that has already grossed more than $550 million worldwide.

Paramount earns an 8% distribution fee for handling DWA's movies, so most of the boxoffice success of "Panda" will be reflected in the publicly held DWA's earnings statements.

Paramount gets a 12.5% distribution fee on "Indiana Jones," which is nearing $700 million in worldwide ticket sales, but Lucasfilm holds the copyright to the revived franchise film. Lucas, Spielberg and star Harrison Ford also stand to reap substantial backend participation from that film.

Paramount's winning year kicked off in January with J.J. Abrams' thriller "Cloverfield," which scared up $80 million domestically.

This past weekend, the studio stumbled a bit with the release of Mike Myers' "The Love Guru," which didn't trigger much laughter at the boxoffice, arriving in fourth place with $13.9 million.

The studio is looking to recover its mojo in August with the DreamWorks comedy "Tropic Thunder," starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black.

Its year-end lineup includes another offering from DWA, "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" on Nov. 7 and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, arriving on Christmas Day. (partialdiff)
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