One Crazy Summer  

The international boxoffice is on fire, and records continue to wilt

International film distribution executives, like salesmen everywhere, are perennial cheerleaders, passionately touting every new season's product as the best ever. This summer they got it right — in spades.

For the first time, five of the six MPA companies topped $1 billion in overseas boxoffice revenue for the year by the end of July (three reached that plateau by that point in 2006). During the weekend release period that ended Aug. 19, six films each raked in more than $10 million from foreign theaters, another first. And that's just two of the legion of records smashed during "a summer for the ages," as Disney international executive David Kornblum calls it.

This year's overseas summer season is estimated to have brought in record boxoffice revenue of $4.3 billion, compared with last year's $3.2 billion, a hike of about 30%.

With an estimated $7 billion already in the coffers from January-August, industry execs express confidence that last year's record $8.6 billion can be toppled. The foreign exchange rate, especially between the euro and the dollar, also has helped to bump up revenue from abroad.

"This year is definitely on track to be the biggest of all time in the international market," Sony Pictures Releasing International distribution president Mark Zucker said.

The summer turnout is seen as further vindication of the health of the overseas theatrical market, which bounced back last year after 2005's panic-laden Year of the Slump.

With the bulk of business coming in the summer months starting in May, two films grossed more than $600 million, one more than $500 million, one more than $400 million, two more than $300 million, three more than $200 million and seven more than $100 million.

According to studio reports, for the eight-month period ending Aug. 31, Warner Bros. Pictures International took top honors ovearall with $1.68 billion, followed by 20th Century Fox International with $1.373 billion.

The surprise third-place entrant with $1.2 billion was Paramount Pictures International, making its debut as a stand-alone company after the breakup of United International Pictures, its joint venture with Universal Pictures International. Fourth place, with $1.169 billion, went to Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International, which crossed the $1 billion threshold for a remarkable 13th consecutive year.

Sony Pictures Releasing International entered the $1 billion ranks at No. 5 with $1.056 billion. Only Universal, also starting out as a stand-alone entity, failed to reach the hallowed benchmark, settling for $533.8 million.

As tentpoles go, so goes the industry. Like on an assembly line, the sequel-lined tentpoles poured out starting in May with "Spider-Man 3," which reached $553.7 million, and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," which ended up with $649.3 million. They were followed week after week by such high-profile titles as "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" ($623 million), "Shrek the Third" ($436.5 million), "Transformers" ($375 million), "The Simpsons Movie" ($302.6 million) and "Die Hard 4" ($223.8 million).

"Rather than cannibalizing each other, they ended up helping each other," said Kornblum, vp international sales and distribution at WDSMPI.

The new "Harry Potter," "Ocean's Thirteen" ($188.5 million) and the presummer trio of "300" ($245 million), "Blood Diamond" ($114 million) and "Music and Lyrics" ($95 million) combined to return WBPI to the $1 billion column in the January-August period. The company recorded $850 million for the same period last year (it surpassed $1 billion by year's end) when its 2006 tentpoles, "Superman Returns" and "Poseidon," failed to live up to their megabuck potential.

But with "Harry Potter" back in action, WBPI is riding high again. "Phoenix" has topped the foreign cume of predecessors "Prisoner of Azkaban" ($546 million), "Goblet of Fire" ($606 million) and "Chamber of Secrets" ($617 million) to become the second-best "Potter" after "Philosopher's Stone" ($656 million). This is the seventh consecutive year WBPI has topped the $1 billion mark for a full year and the 10th overall. For the 2007 May-through-August period, WBPI showed a remarkable 108% increase as its boxoffice hit $970 million.

"This year's blockbusters have resulted in an expansion of the marketplace and brought admissions to new heights," WBPI distribution president Veronika Kwan-Rubinek said.

With $262.2 million on hand from the early-year release of the Ben Stiller family comedy "Night at the Museum," Fox International entered the summer fray with two tested action sequels, the Bruce Willis-starring "Die Hard 4" and the sci-fi adventure "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" ($141.6 million).

But "The Simpsons Movie" was the big surprise of Fox's summer lineup. The company also received solid support before the summer from "Rocky Balboa," which contributed $81.8 million, and "Eragon," which took in $67.8 million.

"The pre-awareness of this year's slate of sequels and franchises is unprecedented," Fox International co-president Tomas Jegeus said. "We were expecting more casualties because there was so much competition. But this will be the biggest year of all time."

Added Andrew Cripps, who segued from president of United International Pictures to the same role at the new PPI: "Overall, this has been a great year for Paramount Pictures International. In our first year, we have already topped $1 billion in international boxoffice for the first time ever in Paramount's long history."

Mainly responsible for PPI's surge were DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek the Third" and Paramount/DreamWorks "Transformers," which, at $375 million, became Paramount's highest-grossing foreign release ever as it surpassed "War of the Worlds" ($357 million). Contributions to PPI's new standing also came from "Norbit" ($63.3 million), "Dreamgirls ($51.2 million) and "Shooter" ($48.2 million).

WDSMPI, which took on the Disney brand this year after giving up the Buena Vista International label, had no trouble keeping its place in the $1 billion parade. Credit goes mainly to "At World's End," the third outing of the spectacular "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, which has emerged as the fourth-most- popular film ever released in the international market. "At World's End's" $649.7 million bested "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" $642.2 million.

Disney/Pixar's "Ratatouille" has generated $10.4 million as part of a traditional Disney release pattern for big-budget animated films, which concentrates mainly on Latin America and Asia during the summer months. With about 50% of the market still to go, Disney said the film is on target to top $300 million as it opens this week in Australia, with Germany, the U.K., Italy and Scandinavia joining in October.

Other contributors to Disney's January-through-August international gross were "Wild Hogs" ($84.9 million) and "Deja Vu" ($67 million of its total foreign gross of $117 million).

Sony International was the first studio to cross $1 billion, hitting the mark July 9 after starting 2007's tentpole barrage in early May with "Spider-Man 3," which set a record for the biggest international opening weekend ever ($231 million of its $553.7 million international cume). It became SPRI's biggest film of all time, topping "The Da Vinci Code" ($539.7 million). SPRI also picked up $121 million for "The Pursuit of Happyness," $104.4 million for "Ghost Rider" and $87.1 million for "Casino Royale," which reached $426.8 million with the addition of its 2006 gross.

In a period when most of the tentpoles hit pay dirt, only UPI's "Evan Almighty" failed to please global moviegoers. But as the summer season came to a close, Universal's second biggie, "The Bourne Ultimatum," took off as the leading international film of late August. "It's the way things have fallen," said Duncan Clark, UPI executive vp international distribution. "We have a much stronger release schedule in the second half."

"Bourne," which has reached $77.4 million, has 26 dates through December; also ready to expand are "Knocked Up" (with 33 markets to play through December) and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" (with 42). Two British-made films, "Mr. Bean's Holiday" ($181.3 million) and "Hot Fuzz" ($55.3 million), lifted UPI spirits earlier this year. And "Almighty," now at $47.7 million, has 10 markets to go, including Italy, Spain and Australia.

New Line International, still awaiting a new franchise in the mold of "The Lord of the Rings," pulled in $185.4 million this year, highlighted by late-summer starters "Rush Hour 3" ($50 million) and "Hairspray" ($31.9 million). Both have international dates scheduled through October. Other top New Line overseas scorers include "The Number 23" ($39.8 million) and "Fracture" ($41.5 million). New Line films are released overseas by territorial distributors, with sister company Warner Bros. Pictures International handling Germany, Austria, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.