The last time one of Michael Jackson's tours played the continental United States was 1988. So perhaps it's no surprise that "This Is It," Sony Pictures' film made from rehearsal footage for Jackson's planned London concert series, did more than twice as much business internationally in its first five days as it did domestically.
"This Is It" opened to a studio-estimated $68.5 million in 108 foreign territories from Wednesday through Sunday and $32.5 million in the U.S. and Canada, where it started late Tuesday.
Its biggest international market was Japan, where "This Is It" sold $10.4 million worth of tickets, the third-biggest opening of the year in the country behind a Japanese film and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
Jackson became more popular in many foreign countries than the U.S. as he continued to tour there in the 1990s and controversy surrounding his personal life had less of an effect.
The lopsided opening for "This Is It" puts it in a small group of films this year to sell more than twice as many tickets overseas as at home.
All told, "This Is It" came in at the low end of expectations domestically but performed solidly overseas, bringing in $101 million worldwide. More important for Sony, however, the movie kept humming after its so-so $20.1-million start Wednesday.
It's typical for concert movies to fall rapidly after an initial burst of enthusiasm from fans when they open. But "This Is It" held on well over the weekend, declining less than 10% from Friday to Saturday despite the occurrence of Halloween. That gave Sony hope that the well-reviewed film would fade slowly in the coming weeks.
"I don't think it's going to be like a traditional concert movie that burns itself out very quickly," said Rory Bruer, Sony's president of distribution.
Partly because of the studio's failure to reach an agreement with theater owners to release a DVD version before Christmas, "This Is It" will have a chance to prove Bruer's conviction. Sony announced Sunday that it was extending the run of "This Is It" beyond the previously planned two weeks. In the U.S., it will now stay in theaters until Thanksgiving.
The audience for "This Is It" was somewhat older than expected, with 62% of moviegoers older than 25. That's good news for Sony, since adults are more likely to turn out after a movie's opening weekend than teenagers.
"This Is It" will almost certainly gross more than $200 million worldwide, which should make the film at least modestly profitable for the studio and generate substantial returns for Jackson's estate and AEG Live, which was producing the "This Is It" concert.
After theater owners take their approximately 50% cut of ticket sales, Sony will recoup the $60 million it spent on movie rights, as well as marketing costs believed to be in the low- to mid-tens of millions. It will also keep a distribution fee that one person close to the deal said is 13% to 20% of revenue, depending on the film's ultimate performance. All other proceeds go to the Jackson estate and AEG Live.
The same split applies to home entertainment. The movie will come out on DVD in late January or early February.
"This Is It" was the only new movie to open nationwide in the last week, as most studios wanted to avoid competing with trick-or-treating and Halloween parties.
Sony was forced to pick the date for "This Is It" because it wanted to rush the film out this fall and every other weekend was crowded with major new releases.
Two new movies opened in limited release Friday, however, to varying results.
Apparition's "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" started with a decent $461,614 at 68 locations. That's more than 15 times the ticket sales for the ultra-violent original, an infamous flop in 2000 that found renewed life on DVD.
Fox Searchlight's "Gentleman Broncos," from "Napoleon Dynamite" director Jared Hess, opened to a weak $10,000 at two theaters.
Weinstein Co. expanded its August release of "Halloween II" to take advantage of the holiday, but grossed just $475,000 at 1,083 theaters.
Overall, the weekend box office was a bit better than expected, as total weekend ticket sales rose 5% from a year earlier, Hollywood.com said.
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