Recession remedy

Big pics ready for world stage as '08 ticks down

As they dole out their holiday goodies, international distribution honchos say the movie business is "relatively stable" despite the global economic turmoil.

High-stakes bets are being placed on Sony/MGM's latest James Bond offering, "Quantum of Solace"; DreamWorks Animation/ Paramount's sequel "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa"; and Fox's remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Fox's Baz Luhrmann Western adventure "Australia" is placed in the "highly promising" class, and there's always hope that another "Mamma Mia!" might be lurking.

With the last lap of the 2008 moviegoing season getting under way, overseas boxoffice revenue (as of Sept. 28) for the major studios is running slightly behind last year's record level: $7.4 billion to 2007's $7.5 billion.

Paramount Pictures International, Universal Pictures International, Warner Bros. Pictures International and 20th Century Fox International are among the MPA companies that topped $1 billion in this year's January-to-September boxoffice race. All six of the major studios hurdled $1 billion overseas by the end of 2007, a history-making accomplishment.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International hit the $1 billion benchmark last weekend, and Sony Pictures Releasing International is confident that Bond will take it past the desired peak during the holiday season.

"Quantum," the 22nd entry in the 007 franchise, takes off Oct. 31 in the U.K., France and Sweden, expands to most of the world in November and December and winds up in Japan on Jan. 24.

"We expect that major European markets and Australia will play the film through the holiday season," said SPRI distribution president Mark Zucker.

Disney's overseas distribution arm, basking in its record 14th consecutive year in the $1 billion-plus ranks, is banking on "four event-caliber Disney-branded properties to excite the broadest range of moviegoers," WDSMPI president Anthony Marcoly said. Teenage merrymakers are expected to line up for the big-screen debut of "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," which raises the curtain day-and-date with the U.S. in about 20 markets Oct. 24.

"Beverly Hills Chihuahua" barks its way through selected markets during November and December, while Adam Sandler will tell his "Bedtime Stories" adventures in about 30 countries day-and-date with the U.S. on Dec. 25 and 26. Disney's 3-D family comedy "Bolt" has a number of key dates during November and December and opens New Year's Day in Australia. And Disney/Pixar's animated hit "WALL-E" winds up in Japan starting in December.

A corporate decision to move "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" to summer 2009 leaves Warner Bros. without a powerhouse entry for the holiday season. But with more than $1 billion already collected from foreign multiplexes, due largely to "The Dark's Knight's" offshore performance ($460 million), WBPI distribution president Veronika Kwan-Rubinek is confident the international arm can more than hold its own in the fall.

A diverse lineup of Warner Bros. films that will be around in overseas markets through year's end includes the Jim Carrey comedy "Yes Man"; the Ridley Scott thriller "Body of Lies"; and the romantic drama "Nights in Rodanthe." In addition, Warners will release the Brad Pitt fantasy "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" on Dec. 26 in Australia day-and-date with the North American bow under Paramount, which holds domestic rights.

Fox International is putting all its efforts behind two tentpoles for the year-end period, co-president Paul Hanneman said. "Earth" is headed for a huge day-and-date rollout starting Dec. 10, with some 10,000 prints in about 60 markets set to be working by Dec. 19. Luhrmann's homegrown "Australia" is set for some 57 markets on or close to Christmas Day. Italy comes aboard in January and Japan in February.

Paramount is on target to reach $2 billion overseas by the end of the year, PPI president Andrew Cripps said. And hopefully triggering that push is DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa." The film opens wide in November and December.

Comic-book adaptations and the amazing "Mamma Mia!" propelled Uni's foreign arm beyond the $1 billion yardstick by the end of the summer and set the stage for the company's best boxoffice year, apparently leaving it sufficiently secure to go after "discerning adults" and more or less taking a counterprogramming position during the year-end period. Executive vp international Duncan Clark said that Clint Eastwood's "Changeling" is booked for selected markets during November and December and Working Title's "Frost/Nixon" will take off in Australia on Dec. 26. (partialdiff)