Warners laps rivals at overseas b.o.

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Related story: Paramount is transformed in '07

The six Hollywood majors will set an all-time record at the overseas boxoffice during 2007, raking in about 15% more than last year with a peak of nearly $10 billion.

The half-dozen MPA companies each topped $1 billion for the first time in industry history, according to preliminary data. An estimate for the full year places Warner Bros.' international theatrical arm in the No. 1 spot with $2.15 billion.

Disney's analogous unit is next with about $1.66 billion, followed by 20th Century Fox at $1.64 billion, Paramount Pictures at $1.60 billion, Sony Pictures at $1.27 billion and Universal Pictures at a touch above $1 billion.

The figures and standings are tentative because most of the companies have titles in release during the final days of the lucrative year-end holiday period.

On Warners' current slate are "I Am Legend," "Beowulf" and "Fred Claus." Disney still has to include the foreign returns from "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" and more dates on "Enchanted," Fox has "Alvin and the Chipmunks," Paramount has "Bee Movie" and Universal has "American Gangster," "Atonement" and "Elizabeth: The Golden Age."

A highlight of the 2007 boxoffice bonanza was the entry of Par's PPI and Universal's UPI in the $1 billion ranks. Both were operating for the first time as stand-alone overseas distributors following the breakup of their longtime partnership in United Pictures International.

For Warner Bros. Pictures International, its tally marks the seventh straight year that it has exceeded $1 billion in foreign boxoffice. The more than $2 billion this year represents the company's second-highest gross, trailing only the $2.2 billion achieved in 2004 as the industry standard.

Movies that fueled WBPI included "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" ($645 million), "300" ($246 million), "Ocean's Thirteen" ($194 million), "Blood Diamond" ($114 million) and "Beowulf" ($100 million and counting).

Meanwhile, the Disney overseas distribution affiliate maintained a singular record of grossing more than $1 billion in the international market for a 13th consecutive year, a mark that competing companies are nowhere near challenging.

Disney's campaign was triggered by the third film in the Johnny Depp-fronted "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, with "At World's End " ($653 million from the offshore market) emerging as the biggest-grossing film in 2007 and the fourth-most-popular film ever after "Titanic" (1997), "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003) and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001).

Disney/Pixar's "Ratatouille" also was a standout contributor, picking up $411 million in a controlled release that extended from the summer to late fall.

Fox, a consistent $1 billion achiever in recent years, brought in $343 million for "The Simpsons Movie"; $262 million for "Night at the Museum"; $248 million for "Die Hard 4"; and $152 million for "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer." Then there was a batch of other $30 million-$80 million producers, headed by "Rocky Balboa" at $82 million.

PPI, which inherited the product of DreamWorks for overseas release when the company became a Paramount partner, hails 2007 as the biggest year for the studio in the international market, topping its $875 million in 2006.

DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek the Third" registered $475 million, and the Paramount/DreamWorks co-venture "Transformers" tallied $387 million and set the stage for "Transformers 2" in 2009. PPI also helped to rescue two domestic disappointments: "Stardust," at $96 million, and "The Heartbreak Kid," at $86 million, each more than doubled its domestic gross.

"Spider-Man 3," via Sony Pictures Releasing International, kicked off the industry's greatest summer of all time in the international market. At the conclusion of its overseas run, "Spider-Man 3" chalked up $555 million, surpassing "Spider-Man's" $418 million and "Spider-Man 2's" $411 million.

The year was the fifth in the past six that SPRI has surpassed more than $1 billion. Also contributing mightily were "The Pursuit of Happyness" ($121 million), "Ghost Rider" ($104 million) and "Casino Royale" ($87 million, with the total including 2006 playing time bringing it to $427 million). The animated "Surf's Up," at $87 million, remains in release.

UPI, which stood on the sidelines while five MPA companies topped $1 billion by the end of July, gathered momentum in the second half. In a steady climb from $533 million at the end of August, the international distributor, backed by a diverse slate of midsize films and "The Bourne Ultimatum" ($215 million), joined the $1 billion parade as the year closed.

Among its other contributors were "Mr. Bean's Holiday" ($192 million), "Evan Almighty" ($73 million), "The Holiday" ($73 million), "Knocked Up" ($70 million), "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" ($65 million), "Hot Fuzz" ($57 million) and "American Gangster" ($53 million with 36 territories still scheduled for release).
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