The end of the box office "slump of '05" and an overall increase in domestic gross over last year should make some U.S. theatre owners happy. However, the studios are more likely to be smiling because of the international grosses. 2006 was a record year for exported movies from Hollywood, and this will probably result in more franchises, sequels and other mainstream fare.

These tentpoles keep Hollywood alive these days, and the studios depend on and cater to worldwide audiences rather than Americans. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that for the sake of the profit, we'll be seeing more movies like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and The Da Vinci Code, both of which performed incredibly at home and overseas despite critical pans. Quoted in Variety, Buena Vista International's Anthony Marcoly confirmed this by saying the current strategy is to produce big movies with wide appeal that will over-perform in the international markets.

Okay, so what else is new, right? Well, there are a few noteworthy things to point out, such as the rising market share for smaller distributors. Focus Features and Lionsgate had spectacular years thanks to Brokeback Mountain and Saw II and III, respectively. The former proves the international box office isn't completely epics and other big-budget entertainments. On a sad note, though, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties also did very well.

Some of the incline in overseas box office could be influenced by the ongoing anti-piracy campaigns, particularly those of Southeast Asia, though typically international grosses are still centered on success in the European markets. Japan is the only Asian country that really contributes with comparative numbers. But the expansion of distributors and exhibitors will get other markets into the big game. 2006 was an important year, for instance, in Latin America, where Brazil, Peru and Colombia are seeing some amazing increases in movie attendance.

One studio that may not need to concentrate as much on the exports is Sony, which had a record domestic year with more money made inside the States than outside. It didn't really matter that it was only the fourth best performer overseas. Fox and Paramount did much better in international markets, though, because Ice Age: The Meltdown and Mission: Impossible III were better received by foreign audiences. Warner Bros. needs to figure out something, as it did poorly all around.

Despite the strong year for Hollywood exports, a separate Variety article points out that some international markets are doing better with local films and that not all foreign audiences are interested in the mainstream studio output. Some countries doing well with their own films include South Korea, Japan, France, Germany and Russia. So it could just be that foreign markets are on the rise in general, not just because of Hollywood's tentpoles.

In other international news, Spain's Yelmo Cineplex chain has begun the attractive alternative of big-screen gaming in one of its Madrid theatres, which Belgium introduced last fall (and America failed to translate correctly). Meanwhile in Italy, the all-ages-permitted film rating given to Apocalypto has sparked a bit of protest from consumer groups who think the film is too violent for children.