World Cup stymieing overseas film releases

Studios scheduling international openings around soccer

Running June 11-July 11 in South Africa, the World Cup should be a boon for satellite TV providers, but it has given Hollywood film executives a collective headache.

By carving out a full 30 days smack in the middle of the busiest season on the foreign theatrical calendar, the quadrennial -- and most-watched -- sports event has forced studio distribution units to execute intricate overseas booking maneuvers to avoid opening their biggest movies during the soccer-saturated period. As a result, annual international boxoffice could slip from last year's record tally.

In the U.K., the major's biggest foreign market, boxoffice dipped 1% and admissions slid 5% when Germany hosted the most recent World Cup in 2006.

"Many countries come to a standstill during the World Cup games, especially if the home team is playing," Warner Bros. international distribution president Veronika Kwan-Rubinek said. "In the football-crazy countries, theater admissions are down dramatically on the days of the games, and event movies that need a male audience suffer."

With that in mind, Paramount opened the summer season's first big tentpole -- Marvel Studios' "Iron Man 2" -- in a handful of global territories Wednesday and will add dozens more by the weekend. That's a week or more before the pic's May 7 domestic bow.

Paramount International topper Andrew Cripps said the move would "give us an even longer period before the World Cup."

Earlier is better, agreed David Kornblum, vp international theatrical sales at Disney.

Research shows the first three weeks of a film's overseas run before the World Cup begins generate "anywhere from 75%-85% of overall boxoffice," with the film subsequently marking weekly declines of up to 50%.

Taking no chances, Disney will begin the overseas run of Jerry Bruckheimer's video game-based "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" nine days before its May 28 domestic opening.

Universal will launch its male-targeting Russell Crowe starrer "Robin Hood" on May 12 in France, the same day the pic opens the Festival de Cannes. Domestic audiences will have to wait until May 14 to see the Ridley Scott-directed tentpole.

Meanwhile, female-oriented film and family pics are more impervious to World Cup woes.

Warners will release "Sex and the City 2," starring Sarah Jessica Parker, in most offshore markets day-and-date with its May 27 domestic bow in a move Kwan-Rubinek called "great counterprogramming to the male-driven World Cup event." The first "Sex" raked in $263 million in foreign coin in 2008.

Summit's "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," the third installment of the "Twilight" franchise popular with teenage females, will blanket the foreign circuit within two weeks of its June 30 domestic opening.

"We are coming out with all guns blazing," Summit International president David Garrett said.

Paramount bows DreamWorks Animation's 3D sequel "Shrek Forever After" on June 30 in France, long after its May 21 debut in the U.S. and Canada. The Gallic slotting was prompted not by the World Cup but to get "closer to summer school holidays," Cripps said.

Disney's "Toy Story 3" will begin foreign bookings about a week after its June 18 domestic debut, even though the offshore openings fall in the thick of World Cup action.

Targeting a broader audience, Sony's remake of "The Karate Kid" is opening selectively overseas. It will debut nearly day-and-date with its June 11 domestic bow in Korea, Southeast Asia, Australia and Middle Eastern territories.

But Sony international distribution president Mark Zucker said the film's European openings will be held for "prime summer dates" and the coordination of a publicity tour by topliners Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan.

Fox actioner "The A-Team" is the sole male-oriented tentpole set to open during the World Cup, debuting in most global territories day-and-date with its June 11 domestic bow.

Although Fox declined comment "on these types of strategic dating decisions," Sony's Zucker said he was "not surprised at all about Fox's booking decision.

"I've looked at the last couple of World Cups, and if you have the one male-oriented action vehicle, it is not a problem," Zucker said. "But if you get a few of them, it could be dicey."

Otherwise, the Hollywood majors are saving much of their remaining summer lineups for international release after the soccer tournament ends.

"There is a bottleneck of product before and after the World Cup," Kwan-Rubinek said.