The fourth Pirates and the eighth Harry Potter are the summer tentpoles around which all other releases are circling. International distribution heads reveal their summer plans to Screen.

“Fortunately this is an odd-numbered year,” says Sony Pictures Releasing International (SPRI) president Mark Zucker. The absence of major sporting events such as next summer’s European football tournament in Poland and the Ukraine and the Olympic Games in London removes at least one inter-national scheduling obstacle. And that can only be a good thing because with an unusually high volume of popcorn fare headed our way, about double the amount of 3D releases of 2010 and the jigsaw puzzle of school and national holidays to consider, international chiefs have their hands full.

Take a look at the release schedule opposite and it becomes immediately clear how summer 2011 offers a heavyweight crop of familiar sequels, family fare, testosterone-drenched action and (more) female-friendly comedy. The final Harry Potter and Pirates Of The Caribbean episodes will vie for audience dollars alongside a third Transformers instalment, a fifth adventure from The Fast And The Furious (Fast Five), an X-Men prequel and sequels to Cars, Kung Fu Pandaand The Hangover.

Joining the X-Men in a superhero-heavy four-month period is new franchise fodder in Thor, Captain America and Green Lantern. The young male demographic is also being targeted by Cowboys And Aliens, Super 8 and Conan The Barbarian. Families will find more to savour in The Smurfs, Mr Popper’s Penguins and Zookeeper, while Bad Teacher, Bridesmaids, The Change-Up and, of course, The Hangover Part II should keep the comedy crowd happy.

The key to a successful blockbuster release is initiative and avoidance; the aim is to claim a date as early as possible while steering clear of rival behemoths and other potential roadblocks.

“We put our flag down for Pirates over a year ago,” notes David Kornblum, vice-president of international theatrical sales and distribution at Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International (WDSMPI). He explains Pirates OfThe Caribbean: On Stranger Tides will roll out day-and-date everywhere around the May 20 US release.

‘We made a big move to get Fast Five in early summer and we will get it out before Pirates everywhere in the world’

David Kosse, Universal Pictures International

Pirates is one to avoid, as is Warner Bros Pictures International (WBPI)’s Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which launches day-and-date worldwide around the July 15 weekend. David Kosse, President, International, Universal Pictures, and his team fought hard to secure an early-summer berth for Fast Five. “We made a big move to get that film in early summer in advance of the US date and we will get it out before Pirates everywhere in the world,” he says.

Paramount Pictures International (PPI) head Andrew Cripps explains the strategy behind the June roll-out of  DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2: “It’s three weeks after Pirates in most markets and three weeks before Transformers: Dark Of The Moon in terms of 3D screens.”

By some projections there could be 18,000 active international 3D screens by August — approximately twice last year’s tally — and each distributor wants to get as much access to those screens (and IMAX venues) as possible while maximising the play time

People are mindful of territory quirks. “The summer is still a challenge in Italy from mid-July through the end of August with few studios and local companies booking a wide variety of films during this period,” says Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, president of distribution at WBPI. “In Australia, our summer is their winter. The Christmas period is therefore their summer season and December/January is traditionally the strongest release window there. The holidays kick in at different times in the different countries, so for example, the third weekend in July [when the schools are out] marks the beginning of the strongest weeks in England and Japan. In France the Fete Du Cinema event on the third weekend in June represents an admissions boost.”

At time of writing it was unclear how much the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster in March would impact on the release schedule in the country and dates may be revised accordingly. SPRI pulled the April 1 release of Battle: Los Angeles and WBPI decided not to open Hereafter due to potentially disturbing content and postponed its release of The Rite.