Bigger's better for o'seas rally

Fewer films grossed $100 mil in '06, but overall take grows

Six high-profile U.S. films, led by 20th Century Fox's "Night at the Museum" with $48.9 million, collected more than $134 million at the overseas boxoffice as the final weekend of the festive season came to a triumphant close and cemented 2006 as the Year of the Comeback after 2005's Year of the Slump (HR 1/3).

Though 19 films topped the benchmark $100 million in 2006 compared with 23 in the depressed 2005, there was an amazing crop of bigger-than-ever grossers in 2006.

Buena Vista International, the Walt Disney Co.'s overseas distribution arm, set a company record as "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" brought in $642 million from offshore movie houses. With $1.06 billion, the Johnny Depp starrer became the third film in industry history to hurdle $1 billion at the worldwide boxoffice, following 1997's "Titanic" ($1.83 billion) and 2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" ($1.12 billion).

Other weighty overseas scorers in 2006 included Sony's "The Da Vinci Code" with $539.1 million, Fox's "Ice Age: The Meltdown" with $452 million and Sony Pictures' "Casino Royale" with $338.3 million.

Surpassing the $200 million plateau in 2006 were UIP/Paramount's "Mission: Impossible III," BVI's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" ($453.5 million for an '05-'06 foreign total), Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand" and BVI's "Cars." Two films topped $190 million, one surpassed $180 million and eight exceeded $100 million.

As has been a recent trend, a greater percentage of films are bringing in more from abroad than from North America ? for example, "Dead Man's Chest's" $642 million compared with domestic's $423.3 million; "Da Vinci's" $539.1 million compared with $217.5 million; "Ice Age's" $452 million compared with $195.3 million; and "Casino's" $338.3 million compared with $154.9 million.

The international market frequently helps to bail out big-budget contenders from total disaster. "Poseidon's" meager $60.7 million from domestic release was somewhat salvaged by foreign's $121 million take. The family entry "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties" picked up only $28.4 million domestically while bringing in $112.2 million overseas.