Foreign boxoffice breaks record in 2009

Fox topped the big six studios with $2.4 billion

Another year, another overseas record.

According to preliminary estimates from the six Hollywood major studios, total 2009 foreign boxoffice -- from all territories outside the U.S. and Canada -- notched a new all-time record of $10.7 billion.

The offshore total represents an increase of 7% from 2008's record boxoffice of $9.942 billion and 11% above the then-record $9.5 billion notched in 2007. The 2009 tally is nearly 20% more than the $8.6 billion grossed three years ago, which was also a record.

Of 2009's top 10 best-grossing domestic titles, only three failed to gross more overseas than in the U.S. and Canada: Warners' "The Hangover" ($277 million domestic vs. $190 million foreign); Paramount's "Star Trek" ($258 million vs. $128 million); and DreamWorks Animation/Paramount's "Monsters vs. Aliens" ($198 million vs. $183 million). Warners' "The Blind Side" has not yet been released overseas.

Foreign boxoffice propelled worldwide gross action for a broad array of titles and genres including "Michael Jackson's This Is It," which rolled up $181.2 million overseas as compared to its domestic take of $72.1 million.

With domestic boxoffice of $60 million, "Bruno" was dismissed as a disappointment but the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy went on to gross $79.2 million more overseas. Overseas theatrical, alas, did not come to the aid of Sony's "Julie & Julia." The Julia Child comedy co-starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams drew a solid $94.1 million in the U.S. and Canada, while its overseas take totaled a mere $35 million.

The 2009 stars were in perfect alignment for foreign operations of Fox and Sony, which both recorded overseas b.o. of more than $2 billion. Both shared strong product and the benefit of a weak dollar.

As a result, Fox topped the big six with total foreign boxoffice of $2.4 billion, an all-time record for any Hollywood studio. The previous record was held by Warner Bros., which accumulated $2.24 billion in 2007. Fox hits in the foreign top 10 include "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," "Avatar" and "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."

It was the third time that Fox films drew more than $2 billion overseas in any one year, with 2009 winding up as the studio's best year ever. Fox's offshore boxoffice market share came in at 23%.

Finishing second was Sony, which registered its biggest year ever by 30% with boxoffice of $2.14 billion, the first year Sony topped the $2 billion mark.

The studio's best year before 2009 was 2006, when it registered offshore boxoffice of $1.634 billion. Sony's 2009 market share was 21%. The year brought the studio a new top foreign grosser, director Roland Emmerich's disaster epic "2012," which supplanted previous record holder, 2007's "Spider-Man 3" ($554.3 million foreign).

Following in order were Warner Bros, ($1.85 billion; 17% share), Disney ($1.685 billion, its fifth biggest year ever; 16% share), Paramount (1.31 billion; 12% share) and Universal ($1.2 billion; 11% share). Warners had five titles grossing more than $100 million overseas, led by "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" ($632 million).

Paramount boasted five titles grossing more than $100 million led by "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" ($433.2 million). Universal had three titles surpass $100 million foreign led by action title "Fast & Furious" ($207.8 million) and (co-distributed with the Weinstein Co.) director Quentin Tarantino's World War II film "Inglourious Basterds" ($198.7 million).

In 2008, Paramount topped the list with foreign boxoffice of $2.037 billion followed by Warner Bros. ($1.81 billion), Universal ($1.71 billion), Fox ($1.6 billion), Sony ($1.38 billion) and Disney ($1.37 billion).

2009's boxoffice bounty was shared by at least one independent, Summit Entertainment, which logged foreign revenue of $877.2 million, a 41% increase from 2008. Summit released four titles during the year that grossed more than $100 million foreign, with "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" leading the pack ($391.3 million).

Driving much of all this was the weak U.S. dollar particularly in the summer months. The dollar has strengthened since then but still, as of Christmas Day, it was down from a year ago an average of 8.7% against a basket of currencies used in the biggest foreign markets.

The dollar is down 8.6.% against the British pound, off 19.6% against the Australian dollar, down 3% against the euro, off 3.2% against the Russian ruble, down 7% against the Swedish krona, off 7% against the South Korean won, down 4.3% against the Indian rupee, off 6.1% against the Mexican peso and down 23.8% against the Brazilian real.

Boxoffice recorded in these local currencies is repatriated via larger dollar conversions by the major studios, in effect providing a "weak dollar bonus" in these markets. "I think the weak dollar added 8%-10% to everyone's results," said Mark Zucker, president of Sony Pictures Releasing International.

2009 also was the beneficiary of other positive developments, some years in the making.

Anthony Marcoly, Disney's president of international theatrical distribution, believes that Russia and China came of age as genuinely lucrative markets. "They were pretty significant components of boxoffice for everybody this year," he said. "That's obviously necessary for the type of growth we are looking for."

David Kornblum, Disney's vp international theatrical sales and distribution, adds one more smaller market hitting its stride -- Venezuela.

For Disney and other studios, the growth of 3D exhibition abroad was "very, very important," said Marcoly. "If you look at our top five movies this year, four of those five had a 3D element to them." Disney top four films in 2009 were 3D releases: "Up," "G-Force" (overseas cume of $165.6 million), "Disney's A Christmas Carol" ($173.8 million) and "Bolt" (153.3 million).

"I think 3D has reinvigorated the marketplace as far as interest for a moviegoer," said Marcoly, who added that 3D locations have the added advantage of charging higher admission prices.

That point was underscored by the Dec. 16 international bow of director James Cameron's mega-budget epic, "Avatar," which had a massive foreign opening -- 14,461 screens including 3,671 3D locations, the industry's widest 3D release ever. The result, according to Paul Hanneman, co-president of Fox Theatrical International, was that "the 3D component of the release or 25% of the screens contributed a phenomenal 56% of the (opening) gross" of $165.5 million.