Studios see dramatic turnaround in global b.o.

After a slump in 2005, the international boxoffice rebounded dramatically for the major studios.

The rumor about the death of the traditional theatrical experience seems to have been greatly exaggerated after all.

Following 2005's more than 10% drop in foreign earnings by the major studios, 2006 saw offshore moviegoers shell out $642 million to see Buena Vista's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," $539.1 million for Sony's "The Da Vinci Code," $452 million for Fox's "Ice Age: The Meltdown" and $338.3 million for Sony's "Casino Royale."

It seems the international distribution executives who strongly contended that 2005's Year of the Slump was product-related were correct all along, even though pundits cited the inability to control piracy, the impact of DVDs and the Internet and competitive entertainment that attracted teenagers and young adults as reasons behind the boxoffice drop-off.

Last year's turnaround saw four major studios each top $1 billion at the overseas boxoffice, an estimated 11% increase in revenue over 2005 that might equal or surpass 2004's record take. 20th Century Fox International and Sony Pictures Releasing International hit new all-time foreign boxoffice records, while 2006 marked the 12th straight year that Buena Vista International, the Walt Disney Co.'s overseas distribution arm, topped $1 billion at the overseas boxoffice; it was the sixth year in a row for Warner Bros. Pictures International.

A broad estimate of the 2006 boxoffice returns of the MPAA companies puts it in the $8.5 billion-$9 billion bracket, according to industry sources. An unofficial survey by Fox International that includes films from all countries released theatrically in the international market, with the exception of those from China and India, sees the 2006 boxoffice gross hitting $14.6 billion, compared to 2005's $13.2 billion.

(Studios prefer to deal with boxoffice numbers, but realistically, about 43% of the gross comes home after the deduction of taxes, the exhibitor's cut and marketing and distribution costs.)

Fox International, which finished No. 1 at the international boxoffice in 2006, hit an all-time company record of $2 billion, topping its previous high of $1.98 billion set in 1998, the year it held the foreign distribution rights to "Titanic." Fox's feat is second to the record of $2.19 billion attained by WBPI in 2004.

Fox International's big guns -- "Meltdown" and "X-Men: The Last Stand" ($224.4 million) -- were followed by three curious overseas achievers. The Meryl Streep comedy-drama "The Devil Wears Prada" found overseas favor to the tune of $195.2 million, and the controversial "Borat," from British shock comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, tallied $113.4 million despite failing to obtain bookings in such key markets as Japan and Russia. The animated "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties," which could only arouse $28.4 million in the domestic market, brought home $112.2 million overseas.

"We were confident that we'd do more than $100 million with 'Prada,' but we were surprised when it came close to $200 million," Fox International co-president Paul Hanneman says. "We knew we had something special with 'Borat,' and we had to work hard to broaden the audience beyond (fans of Baron Cohen's HBO series 'Da Ali G Show'). And we did well with the first 'Garfield' franchise (in 2004) and knew it could work again."

And Fox International finished the year with a flourish, as the saturation-booked family fantasy "Eragon" took in $105.7 million overseas during the Christmas-New Year's period, and the end-of-the-year Ben Stiller comedy "Night at the Museum" scared up $60.7 million, with $48.9 million coming in over the New Year's weekend.

BVI came in second with a gross of $1.803 billion, its second-best performance since the record-setting $1.882 billion in 2003.

"It was another great year that showed our consistency," BVI president Anthony Marcoly says. "We've grossed over $1 billion for 12 years in a row, and in 10 of the last 13 years, we were No. 1 or No. 2 among international distributors."

Distributor 2006 2005 2004
20th Century Fox Intl. $2,000.0 $1,600.0 $1,227.0
Buena Vista International 1,803.0 1,325.6 1,772.5
Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. 1,631.0 826.0 1,207.0
Warner Bros. Pictures Intl. 1,300.0 1,890.0 2,190.0
UIP/Universal 940.0* 783.4 906.4
UIP/Paramount 537.0 529.0 286.0
UIP/DreamWorks 373.0** 996.9 914.0
Summit Entertainment 250.0 332.0 151.9
New Line Entertainment 180.0 336.8 540.5
Focus International 273.0 163.9 274.5
Lionsgate International 148.0 100.6 101.4
UIP Acquisitions 33.0 53.8 70.0

$ in millions. Source: The Hollywood Reporter
*includes Universal films released in France by Studio Canal
** includes DreamWorks' totals from non-UIP territories.

BVI's major entries included "Dead Man's Chest," which held the No. 1 position for nine straight weeks in the international market, the 2006 carry-over of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" ($235.1 million for a $453.5 million 2005-06 total), the Pixar-animated entry "Cars" ($217.7 million) and the $97 million "Chicken Little" ($179 million combined for 2005-06).

After a disappointing 2005, SPRI, bolstered by the controversial religious mystery-drama "Da Vinci Code" and the latest James Bond entry "Casino Royale," bounced back to take third place as it set a new all-time company record with $1.631 billion.

"We felt all along that 'Da Vinci Code' would do well because there was a built-in interest with 50 million copies of the (Dan Brown) book sold around the world," SPRI distribution president Mark Zucker says. "It had the biggest opening weekend ever. And we had the biggest Bond film ever and the biggest Adam Sandler film ever."

Sandler's "Click" brought in $94.8 million overseas, and the studio's animated offering "Open Season" took in $95.7 million.

Top international boxoffice grossers
Releases Distributor Boxoffice
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Buena Vista Intl. $642.0
The Da Vinci Code Sony Pictures Intl. 539.1
Ice Age: The Meltdown 20th Cenury Fox Intl. 452.0
Casino Royale Sony Pictures Intl. 338.3
Mission: Impossible III UIP/Paramount 17.8
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Buena Vista Intl. 235.1*
The Last Stand 20th Century Fox Intl. 224.4
Cars Buena Vista Intl. 217.7

$ in millions. * 2005-06 total $453.3

Despite the failure of two high-profile big-budget films to live up to initial boxoffice expectations -- "Poseidon" ($121 million) and "Superman Returns" ($190 million) -- WBPI surpassed the $1 billion milestone for the sixth year in a row and the ninth time overall, taking fourth place with $1.3 billion. WBPI says its gross of about $260 million from the release of local-language productions and acquisitions, representing about 20% of its total boxoffice gross in 2006, doubled the results from these sources in 2005.

WBPI, one of the industry's leaders in handling local productions, grossed $76 million from the release of "Le Bronze Ami pour la vie" in France, $22 million from "Volver" in Spain, $42 million from "Death Note 2" in Japan and $15 million from "Pan's Labyrinth" in Mexico. It pulled in $68 million -- as part of a split-rights arrangement -- of the $116 million reached by "The Departed" and takes credit for $114 million of the currently-in-release animation offering "Happy Feet." In addition, it has collected $22 million just from the release in Japan of Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima."

In its final year as the overseas distributor for Paramount, Universal and DreamWorks, United International Pictures grossed $1.85 billion, its third-biggest year ever following its record $2.26 billion in 2005 and $2 billion in 2004.

"I am very proud of UIP achieving this level of boxoffice in 2006, a year that had distractions associated with the transition to Paramount (International Pictures) and Universal (International Pictures)," says outgoing UIP president Andrew Cripps, who took over the similar top post at PPI on Jan. 1. "2006 was also a year that delivered solid performance for the company across a wide range of product, which contributed to the dramatic rebound of boxoffice fortunes in many markets."

Universal's final total under UIP's wing came to $940 million, 20% better than 2005's $785 million. Its leading films in 2006 were "King Kong" ($115.8 million for a 2005-06 total of $331 million), "Miami Vice" ($100.8 million), "Inside Man" $95.5 million" and "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" ($95.3 million).

Paramount's share came to $537 million, topped by "Mission: Impossible III's" $263 million and "World Trade Center's" $92 million. The family release "Over the Hedge" ($180 million) led DreamWorks' 2006 effort, followed by $81 million for "Munich" and $76.5 million for "Flushed Away."

Among the indies, Lionsgate International advanced to $148 million over 2005's $100.6 million, thanks largely to its global horror franchise "Saw"; "Saw III's" $62.9 million in 2006 outgrossed in a month the original "Saw's" $45.1 million.

Summit Entertainment's collaboration with Germany's Constantin on "Perfume: The Diary of a Murderer," which grossed $96.6 million in 2006, helped Summit reach $250 million, less than its $332 million performance in 2005. Other '06 players were "Basic Instinct 2" ($33.4 million), "Step Up" ($22.5 million) and "Babel" ($17.8 million).

Focus Features International, Universal's specialized division, grossed $273 million in 2006, the second-best year in the company's history after 2004's $274.5 million. Its top three '06 titles were "Brokeback Mountain" ($97.3 million), "Silent Hill" ($41.6 million) and "Prime" ($39.6 million).