Posted: Sun., Aug. 13, 2006, 6:00am PT
Hero seeks his place in the world
'Superman' struggles o'seas against 'Pirates'
By Ian Mohr
Now that Warner Bros.' "Superman Returns" has flown around most of the world, the question is: What was the factor that proved kryptonite to weaken the superhero's results?
Was it the studio's marketing campaign? A character too steeped in Americana, at a time when "truth, justice and the American way" is under fire? An inability to update the wholesome Man of Steel for the "Grand Theft Auto" generation? Or was it just the film itself?
Certainly Superman had one key blockade this summer: Johnny Depp's flouncing antihero from Buena Vista Intl.'s "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."
Overseas so far, the Bryan Singer-directed "Superman" has earned $146.5 million. In English-speaking turf alone, "Superman" is running a full $56.6 million behind "Pirates" in the U.K., and more than $15 million off pace in Australia.
"Superman" still has his laser vision set on 13 remaining territories, including key upcoming bows in Japan, Germany and Italy.
Some international studio pros point to "Superman's" issues even before "Pirates" came on the horizon.
"Some hardcore fans thought, 'This is the way it is supposed to be,'" says one international vet. "But others thought it was old-fashioned. Maybe Singer was too much of a fan?"
"Superman" isn't the only victim of "Pirates' " plundering: Last weekend, in its fifth frame, "Pirates" grossed more than double the combined takes of the next four films in the charts -- "Superman," "Miami Vice," "Cars" and "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties."
After watching B.O. slump sorely in 2005, foreign cinema operators were hungrily predicting this summer's sesh would be a potential knockout thanks to a potent one-two punch: "Dead Man's Chest" and "Superman."
They were also sure that BVI's "Cars" and DreamWorks' "Over the Hedge" would make for some serious gravy, following the overseas rolls of recent CG animated successes "Madagascar" ($335.2 million) and "Ice Age: The Meltdown" ($449.6 million).
Well, it has been a haymaker of a summer, but "Pirates" has taken the wind out of everyone's sails.
"Pirates" has set its course to pass "Finding Nemo's" world take of $865 million; that will make it BVI's top combined domestic and international grosser.
Meantime, Warner Bros. is left with the consolation that "Superman" will still beat the $166.5 million that its dark "Batman Begins"' lassoed in overseas coin last year.
"Who would have predicted this a year ago?" asks one overseas distribution topper. "I would have loved to have had 'Superman,' which has universal awareness. And Warner Bros. is so bloody smart and great in their marketing. But it was a lost opportunity."
He feels the character is old-fashioned and the marketing seemed similarly retro, invoking images from "Smallville" and the films from the '70s. And, unlike most of this summer's other blockbusters, there wasn't a single Euro star in this film.
And who would've thought that a pirate who runs like a girl would shoot down the Man of Steel? One international vet explains that Depp happens to be a uniquely potent star with overseas auds.
"Johnny Depp is loved around the world in a different way than Tom Cruise or DiCaprio," she points out. "Audiences admire the roles that he picks because they are not all big moneymaking films, and he plays characters that are quite appealing to young audiences around the globe."
And, as compared to Sparrow, Brandon Routh's Superman ended up looking pretty tame: These days, would you rather be an obtuse savior figure in tights or an island-hopping, shambolic rock star?
After Japan, Germany and Italy, most analysts believe Singerman's last hope will be the Galapagos Islands. We understand it has a good shot of leading the box office in that market's two and half theaters.