Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures breathed a big sigh of relief on Sunday.  No, it wasn't because of the results of anything debuting stateside, but of a highly anticipated release dipping its toe into theaters overseas, Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn." 

The Peter Jackson produced and Spielberg directed adaptation of the classic Belgian comic character grossed $55.8 million in 19 overseas markets.  "Tintin" was no. 1 in 17 of those countries including a spectacular $21.5 million debut in France and $10.7 million opening in the U.K.  The 3-D motion-capture animation family flick is still a long way from breaking even. Especially since it cost at least $150 million after tax credits and sports a massive global marketing budget.  Plus, those huge backends that Jackson and Spielberg demand won't make things easy for studio accountants looking to hit the black on this one..  However, this weekend was just the first leg of a long term strategy to milk the positively reviewed adventure overseas before releasing it in the U.S. at Christmas.

"Tintin" is barely known in the U.S. and Paramount Pictures hopes by generating buzz overseas it can help foster interest back home.  This is the polar opposite of most releases where success in the U.S. is used to help hype a project internationally (although with the growing number of day and dates worldwide even that strategy is fading).  The strong notices for "Tintin" are also an encouraging sign for the film's prospects in the best animated feature race.  "Rango" is currently the frontrunner with "Rio," "Arthur Christmas," "Puss in Boots" and "Happy Feet Two" seen as likely nominee contenders.  The more successful "Tintin" is in theaters across the globe, a better selling point for the motion-capture film to join the animated field  (especially considering those on the nominating committee who don't want to recognize motion capture as animation with or without Spielberg's name on the credits).  Granted, Paramount and Sony are much more interested in starting a profitable franchise, but Oscar glory certainly wouldn't hurt that long term strategy. 

The question is just how much can "Tintin" sail to overseas?  Is it a $300 million player or can it gross as much as $500 million? (For comparison's sake, "Kung Fu Panda 2" grossed $497 million overseas, "Cars 2" did $360 million.) No matter how hard Paramount works it on the marketing and PR front in the U.S., "Tintin" is a tough sell at home.  Not just because the subject matter is relatively unknown and old school, but strong family competition at Christmas from the always potent "Alvin and the Chipmunks" who return with -- wait for it -- "Chipwrecked." Yes ladies and gentlemen, Spielberg and Jackson's first onscreen collaboration has three singing chipmunks to deal with at the holidays.


But after this weekend?  Sony, Paramount, Spielberg and Jackson are celebrating one big win knowing there are many more challenges on the horizon.

Do you think "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" can be a hit in the U.S.?  Share your thoughts below.

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