It used to be an axiom in Hollywood that comedies don't travel overseas, except those of the animated variety -- but then again, the world hadn't met the Fockers.
Universal's "Meet the Fockers," thanks to its overseas performance, has become the top live action comedy ever, grossing $498 million overall, taking $221 million of its total from theaters abroad on top of its $277 million in the U.S.
"Straight comedies don't travel well," said Brandon Gray, president of tracking firm Boxofficemojo.com. "It's a cultural thing." Exceptions to the rule include a handful of British-based romantic comedies -- "Love Actually," "Notting Hill," the "Bridget Jones" movies -- which "were huge overseas," Gray noted, and somewhat less successful in the U.S.
The previous worldwide king of comedy movies was "Bruce Almighty," which grossed $241.7 million at the international box office, nearly matching its domestic figure of $242.8 million for a total of $484.5 million. While "Home Alone" remains the domestic comedy champ with about $286 million, "Fockers" easily surpassed the $192 million that 1990's "Alone" grossed overseas.
Even at those numbers, comedies don't come close to the blockbuster "Titanic," which grossed $1.2 billion overseas and $600 million domestically and holds the worldwide box office record. At second is "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" with $1.1 billion, followed by "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" and "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace."
To find "Meet the Fockers" on Boxofficemojo.com's list of all-time worldwide hits, you'd have go all the way to No. 35 (domestically, it's No. 25).
"Shrek 2," No. 6 worldwide, is arguably a comedy, although animated films tend to stand apart on their own terms, which may or may not include a lot of comedy.
The next highest animated movie on the list, "Finding Nemo" at No. 10, is more an adventure story than a comedy.
Not every U.S. comedy falters in the international market, it's just that until relatively recently they haven't performed as well as they do at home.
"Those rules just aren't true anymore," says Jeff Blake, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, "especially if the pictures are good and the stars get out there and promote them."
A case in point is Sony's "Hitch," starring Will Smith, which is doing quite well overseas.
But Smith's draw as an action-movie star may be as big a factor as the movie, his first romantic comedy.
Sony reports that "Hitch's" worldwide total stands at about $260 million, with $100 million and counting coming from overseas, where it has been the No. 1 movie for the last three weeks.
Another Smith hit, "Men in Black," is comedic science fiction but not, strictly speaking, a comedy.
With a worldwide gross of $589 million, it's No. 25 worldwide, and if you considered it a comedy, the only one that would beat the "Fockers."