'Mamma Mia!' tops overseas boxoffice

Musical takes No. 1 spot after nine weeks

In a traditional down period following the deluge of summer blockbusters, the surprise musical hit "Mamma Mia!" hurdled into first place overseas, leading an array of seasonal holdovers that held firm against a batch of new minor-league contenders.

The film based on the music of Swedish pop group ABBA took in $16.2 million from 3,384 sites in 37 territories for a foreign gross of $281.4 million, with distributor Universal Pictures International predicting it will top $300 million this week. The film is set to open in 16 more markets over the next two months, with France, Belgium, Brazil, Mexico, Hong Kong and India coming aboard this weekend.

Universal's "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" edged into second place thanks to a striking $8.9 million opening in China, earning $12.4 million from 4,345 screens (with China alone providing 1,158) for an international cume to date of $257 million.

Although Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight" barely slipped to third place after three consecutive weeks in first -- its fourth week on top came earlier in its run -- it remained a formidable force in the international market, tallying $12.3 million from 5,175 screens in 62 territories and raising its overseas gross to $438 million.

Animated hits "Kung Fu Panda" (Paramount) and "WALL-E" (Disney/Pixar), both on extended rollouts, tied in the weekend's top 5 with $6.7 million each, with "Panda" reaching an international gross of $397.3 million and "WALL-E" hitting $184.5 million. "Panda" completed its overseas run last weekend in Greece, while "WALL-E" is still awaiting key market dates.

As the Jan.1-Aug. 31 boxoffice span came to an end, it's estimated that films from the six major companies brought in $6.95 billion during the period, about 1% less than last year's record $7 billion.

While Paramount, Fox, Universal and Warner Bros. have each tallied more than $1 billion during that period, Disney and Sony are gearing up to surpass that mark as the year-end season comes into play. Disney is relying on October's "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," with simultaneous openings in 30 markets. Sony's big gun, meanwhile, is new James Bond entry "Quantum of Solace," which will reach overseas markets before its Nov. 14 domestic rollout. That date was shifted when Warner Bros. pushed the release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" to summer 2009. "Solace" will kick off in the U.K., France and Sweden on Oct. 31 and hit most of the rest of the world Nov. 17 before winding up in January.

In the meantime, the market is glutted with lesser lights, split-rights opportunists and local films, many of which are distributed in their home countries by a major-company distributor.

The current state of the market is perhaps best illustrated by the U.K., where new films usually get a warm welcome by see-everything regulars. This past weekend's newcomer, Warner Bros.' "RocknRolla," hit the top of the charts with $2.9 million from 362 screens. Holding second place in its ninth weekend was "Mamma Mia!," which has taken in a remarkable $101.6 million to date. Opening at No. 3 was British offering "The Duchess," which bowed via Pathe to $2.5 million from 426 screens. "Bangkok Dangerous" barely made it to No. 10 with $541,487 from 281 screens.

The critically rapped split-rights offering "Babylon A.D." took in $2.5 million from 914 screens in 12 markets handled by Fox, reaching a cume to date of $4.6 million. The film, however, arrived No. 2 in Mexico and No. 3 in France.

In Mexico, Disney claimed No. 1 with "HSM El Desafsio," the Mexican version of "High School Musical" ($2 million from 361 locations), and Fox reached the top in Spain with "Che, El Ar the Argentine," which took in $2.7 million from 336 screens.

More weekend action: "Tropic Thunder," $2.4 million (cume: $17.8 million); "Wanted," $5.9 million (cume: $147.5 million); "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," $5.4 million (cume: $78.3 million); "Hancock," $4 million (cume: $362.7 million); "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," $2.4 million (cume: $26.2 million); and "Journey to the Center of the Earth," $3.7 million (cume: $56.7 million).