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In the new James Bond film “Skyfall,” the British secret agent starts out in Istanbul, travels to London and flies to Shanghai and Macau before returning to his ancestral home in Scotland.

Agent 007’s journey could also have been the movie’s release schedule.

With international ticket sales a big chunk of Hollywood’s revenue, more films now play overseas first to take advantage of peak demand while building buzz in the U.S. “Skyfall,” the 23rd Bond, grossed $346.8 million in more than 80 countries before opening in the U.S. and Canada on Nov. 9. The movie pulled in $87.8 million in its domestic debut for Sony Corp. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., the most ever for the franchise.

“We’ve seen this become more and more routine,” said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co. “High- profile Hollywood blockbusters opening overseas first as the U.S. becomes just another territory.”

Historically, consumers outside the U.S. would wait months before seeing current releases, according to Robert Marich, author of the book “Marketing to Moviegoers.” Opening pictures widely overseas reduces the temptation for consumers to seek pirated versions, and takes advantage of film studio’s marketing campaigns that travel all over the world via the Internet, he said.

International ticket sales -- defined by Hollywood as sales outside the U.S. and Canada -- rose 7 percent last year to $22.4 billion, according to the Washington-based trade group the Motion Picture Association of America. Domestic sales fell 4 percent to $10.2 billion.

U.S. Boost

One reason the overseas box office has become more important is that many markets have modern theaters that offer a bigger percentage of box office sales, Rob Rader, an entertainment attorney at Schwarcz Rimberg Boyd & Rader LLP in Los Angeles, said in an interview.

Releasing “Skyfall” first overseas may have boosted the U.S. box office this weekend by $15 million, Rader said, citing increased awareness of the movie.

“They played to their strength internationally and picked a weekend with no other wide releases to compete with,” Rader said.

“Skyfall” beat the $76 million estimate of BoxOfficeGuru.com. The previous top-grossing Bond opener was “Quantum of Solace” in 2008 with $67.5 million,

The late-October international release of Bond was planned to take advantage of midterm school breaks in the U.K. and other holidays in western Europe, when people are more likely to go to the movies, according to Rory Bruer, president of worldwide marketing for Sony Pictures Entertainment.

“It really is about picking the best date,” Bruer said in a telephone interview.

Half-Billion

This past weekend, the third in many markets outside the U.S., brings the worldwide box office for “Skyfall” to $518.6 million, according to Sony.

While some franchises such as Bond have built-in international appeal, others can’t pursue the same strategy because they have more relevancy to U.S. audiences, according to Peter Sealey, a former marketing executive at Columbia Pictures.

“This would not work on a film such as ‘Lincoln,’ ” Sealey said in an e-mail.

Steven Spielberg ’s “Lincoln,” from the director’s DreamWorks Studios and distributor Walt Disney Co., opened in limited release and expands nationally next week.

Bond is the fifth-largest movie franchise of all time. Its 23 previous films, dating back to 1963’s “Dr. No.,” have averaged $204.7 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales when adjusted for inflation, according to Box Office Mojo.

Craig, Bardem

“Skyfall” is the 23rd Bond picture from Eon Productions, which holds the rights to Ian Fleming’s novels. Some researchers, including Box Office Mojo, count 24 to include “Never Say Never Again,” released by Warner Bros. in 1983 and starring Connery.

In “Skyfall,” Daniel Craig returns for the third time as Bond. The agent is assumed dead after being shot accidentally by an MI6 colleague. After a surprise return, he battles a new villain, played by Javier Bardem, who battles with agency chief M, portrayed by Judi Dench, and has stolen a list of Western intelligence agents.

The movie, which cost $200 million to produce, according to estimates from researcher Box Office Mojo, has earned critical acclaim, including a 93 percent positive ranking from critics as of Nov. 9, according to Rottentomatoes.com.

Worldwide, the highest-grossing Bond was 2006’s “Casino Royale.” The first one starring Daniel Craig, it generated $594.2 million in global ticket sales.

No Guarantee

Other films enjoying overseas success include Walt Disney Co.’s “Marvel’s The Avengers.” The picture grossed $218 million and set records in 12 countries before its May 4 release in the U.S.

Releasing a film first internationally is no guarantee of success. “Battleship,” a Universal Studios action film released this year, grossed a disappointing $65 million in the U.S. when compared with the $237 million it brought from overseas, according to Keith Simanton, managing editor of researcher Imdb.com.

“The bad-word-of-mouth and scathing reviews from critics wafting early from across the Atlantic helped torpedo its domestic debut here,” Simanton said.

The amounts below are based on actual ticket sales from Nov. 9 and 10, and estimates for yesterday.

--With assistance from Michael White in Los Angeles. Editor: Anthony Palazzo