Record-smashing summer int'l b.o. reaps $4.3 bil

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

Related story: Across Europe, conditions ideal for red-hot summer

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 Motion Picture Assn. 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 exec David Kornblum calls it.

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

With an estimated $7 billion already in the coffers from January to 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, has also 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 added.

This year's 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 with $1.680 billion, followed by 20th Century Fox International with $1.373 billion.

The surprise third-place entrant with $1.200 billion was Paramount Pictures International, making its debut as a stand-alone company following the break-up 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 $642.2 million. They were followed week after week by such high-profile titles as "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" ($623.0 million), "Shrek the Third" ($436.5 million), "Transformers" ($375 million), "The Simpsons Movie" ($302.6 million) and "Die Hard 4.0" ($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 this year. The company recorded $850 million for the same period last year (it surpassed $1 billion by the end of the year) when its 2006 tentpoles, "Superman Returns" and "Poseidon," failed to live up to their megabuck potential.

But with Harry back in action after a brief hiatus, WBPI is riding high again. "Phoenix" has topped the foreign cume of Potter 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 earnings hit $970 million compared to last year's $466 million.

"This year's blockbusters have resulted in an expansion of the marketplace and brought 2007 summer 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 of the Museum," Fox International entered the summer fray with two tested action sequels, the Bruce Willis-starring "Die Hard 4.0" ($223.8 million) 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 as foreign moviegoers flocked to see a big-screen adaptation of an 18-year-old animated U.S. TV show. 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."

"Overall, this has been a great year for Paramount Pictures International," said Andrew Cripps, who segued from president of United International Pictures to the same role at the new PPI. "In our first year of existence, 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 long-standing 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 stands as the top-grossing film of this year in the overseas market and has emerged as the fourth-most popular film ever released in the international market. "Pirates 3's" $649.3 million has bested "Pirates 2's" $642.2 million.

The Disney/Pixar "Ratatouille" has generated $190.4 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 some 50% of the market still to go, Disney says the film is on target to top $300 million as it opens this week (Sept. 6) in Australia, with Germany, the U.K., Italy and Scandinavia joining in October.

Other contributors to Disney's January-through-August international boxoffice 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 the $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 "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 Matt Damon starrer "The Borne Ultimatum," took off as the leading international film of late August. "It's the way things have fallen," said Duncan Clark, UPI's 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 left between September and December, and ready to expand are "Knocked Up" (with 33 markets to play through December) and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" (with 42). Two unexpected British-made films, "Mr. Bean's Holiday" ($181.3 million) and "Hot Fuzz" ($55.3 million), lifted UPI spirits earlier this year. And "Evan 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 "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.