Rising tide of o'seas b.o.

Cripps calls to stop camcording

LAS VEGAS -- The international boxoffice is undergoing a growth spurt, Paramount Pictures International president Andrew Cripps reported Monday as ShoWest kicked off here at the Paris and Bally's hotels.

Speaking to an audience of more than 600 attendees from 50 countries at the convention's International Day, Cripps, who recently launched Paramount's international distribution operation, said that while worldwide boxoffice rose by 11% in 2006 to a record $25.8 billion, the international market saw even more buoyant growth: It increased by 14% over 2005 to $16.33 billion.

There still are clouds on the horizon, though. Cripps called for international exhibitors to work to stamp out illegal camcording in theaters because that is the primary source of early piracy. "Yet, amazingly, this brazen act of theft, while a felony in the United States and illegal in 42 states, is not illegal in some of our major markets, including Canada, the U.K., France, Spain and Mexico," he said.

While endorsing exclusive theatrical windows, Cripps called on exhibitors to be flexible. Addressing recent moves in Germany and the U.K. to pull "Night at the Museum" from theaters because of its pending DVD release, Cripps said, "pulling prints off theater screens doesn't help anyone."

He also called for marketers to get more creative, using plasma screens and digital posters to tempt moviegoers into theaters. "Soon, we should be relegating paper posters and cardboard standees to the dustbin of history in today's digital age," he said.

Surveying the scene, Cripps observed that while business in the U.K. was relatively flat in 2006, other territories were on a roll: Boxoffice in Spain, Italy and Japan grew by 2%, South Korea was up 15%, and Russia saw business boom by more than 30%. In China, which saw a 31% increase, boxoffice hit $335 million for the first time ever. As a growing middle class hit the multiplexes in India, that country saw a 40% jump in tickets sold.

Counting their international haul, the major studios could claim estimated grosses of $8.6 billion from abroad, up 9% from 2005. Buena Vista's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" became only the third film in history to top the $1 billion worldwide boxoffice mark. As further evidence of international's power, Sony Pictures' "The Da Vinci Code" and 20th Century Fox's "Ice Age: The Meltdown" both did 70% of their worldwide gross internationally.

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox International, the year's top international distributor, sailed past the $2 billion mark.

Cripps noted that the market wasn't dominated by one or two films, but a series movies released over the course of the year all contributed -- from "King Kong" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" at the start of the year to "Casino Royale" in December.

Looking ahead, 2007 seems equally upbeat. Through the end of February, boxoffice in the U.K. was up 10%, Cripps said. Brazil is up 14% and Mexico, 20%.

With sequels to "Spider-Man," "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Shrek" all coming out within three weeks of each other in the summer, Cripps added, "Only a real pessimist would not see a record year in the making."

One factor driving the market has been the popularity of CGI-animated films. Cripps noted that with the number of such films increasing, the average gross-per-film declined slightly in 2006, but they still each averaged more than $200 million worldwide last year and grossed $2.7 billion around the globe.

At the same time, local product is challenging U.S. titles in many countries, though Cripps said, "this does not seem to be at the expense of U.S. studio and independent product, but appears to be incremental growth in many places."

In Japan, homegrown films attracted more than 50% of the boxoffice for the first time in 21 years. In Germany, German films topped the boxoffice charts in the fall for 10 consecutive weeks. "In the U.K., I'm reliably told that 19% of the boxoffice was generated by British films, although how one defines a British film these days I have no idea," Cripps said.

A number of such locally produced films also crossed borders. Cripps cited Germany's "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer," which grossed $116 million worldwide. Spain's "Volver" grossed $82 million worldwide, and Great Britain's "The Queen" has hit $106 million worldwide, with only $16 million of that coming from the U.K.

"If we can continue as an industry to find stories and themes that cross international borders and find ways to effectively market them, we will continue to expand the filmgoing universe," Cripps said.

Ad Weststrate, president of the Union Internationale des Cinemas, which represents 15 European countries, echoed a call for the creation of a certification program for digital-cinema equipment that UNIC and the National Association of Theatre Owners issued in August.

He also argued for maintaining theatrical windows. "Shortening the windows is not an answer to piracy," he said.

Eric Mika, The Hollywood Reporter's senior vp, managing director international, moderated the breakfast kickoff, which was sponsored by Strong International and Qube Cinema. In response to the growth of the international market, he said that this year CineAsia will take place in Macau and that Cinema Expo International in Amsterdam will expand.

ShoWest is managed by Nielsen Business Media, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.