‘Beast’ a B.O. beauty in Japanese opening

Traditionally Japanese audiences have been rather blase toward Disney’s animated films, preferring the more aggressive style of their own animation until last week’s boffo bow by “Beauty and the Beast.”

Among the session’s other highlights: “Basic Instinct” powered through $ 200 million overseas; “Patriot Games” had a lively debut in the U.K.; and in Spain and Germany, “Unforgiven” was good but not great upon arrival.

“Beauty and the Beast” posted the best-ever opening of any Disney-animated offering, grossing 364 million yen ($ 2.9 million) at 103 theaters.

In the nine key cities, which account for the majority of nationwide biz, the total was within a whisker of the first-week haul of “Kurenaino Buta” (The Scarlet Pig), the Japanese-animated smash that debuted this summer. The puce porker is forecast to wind up with rentals of some 2 billion yen ($ 16 million).

Paving the way, the distrib primed the market by staging a Disney-animated film fest in Osaka in June. “B&B” is registering evenly across all demographics and BV reports it’s connecting best with the largest cinema-going segment: females age 16 through 29.

“Basic Instinct” vaulted to $ 203 million; Carolco shies off disclosing rentals, but assuming an average of 40% of the B.O., that factors out to more than $ 80 mil.

Oblivious to critics who panned its “soulless eroticism,” in Italy “Instinct” widened from 155 to 194 prints and collared $ 4.56 million in the second weekend , $ 10 million total. On a tear in Spain, Carolco’s pic has amassed $ 16.5 million through six weeks on 104 screens.

“Bitter Moon” had a middling $ 1.3 million debut on 164 French screens. Distrib AMLF could have been counting on more after director Roman Polanski blanketed TV screens to promote his lubricious pic. Fellow rookies “Unlawful Entry” and “Fried Green Tomatoes” were blah, surprisingly so in the latter’s case after affirmative reviews and handsome results in Scandinavia, Germany and elsewhere.

Beginning its European rollout, “Patriot Games” pocketed 1.7 million ($ 3 million) on 274 prints in the U.K. and Ireland, which was 45% up on “The Hunt for Red October.” Exhibs rate “Patriot’s” pull as very good but not sensational. Similarly fine was its $ 358,000 eight-day haul on 22 screens in Norway.

“California Man” (aka “Encino Man”) survived a fierce reception from British critics to deliver respectable numbers in multiplexes but was lousy in the West End.

Rank’s British comedy “Just Like a Woman,” one of a half-dozen films that reflect the Brits’ apparent fascination with cross-dressing, fared OK, carefully slotted into up-market situations.

Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” launched in Germany with $ 787,500 on 149 prints, incredibly trailing “Memoirs of an Invisible Man,” which logged $ 926, 600 on 141. Unusually warm weather last weekend, plus the Oktoberfest booze-up in Bavaria put a chill on the B.O., as the top 10 plummeted by 22% to $ 6.4 million.

After “Memoirs” vanished in France, Sweden and the U.K., Warner Bros. devised a new campaign built around a sexy-looking Daryl Hannah on the run, bought spots on SAT-1 and RTL Plus, and it’s proving effective. “Unforgiven” initialed in Spain with a tepid $ 584,860 at 87 screens. Critics everywhere may hail this as a Clintessential Western, but it seems to appeal chiefly to older, up-market audiences and not to Eastwood’s diehard fans, who don’t want to see Eastwood as an anti-hero.

If “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery” was going to work anywhere in the world, it should have been Spain. But write off that territory as another unmitigated disaster. According to one tradester, the locals shunned John Glen’s film as trivializing history and an insult to Spanish pride. In Australia, the B.O. bounced up by 26% to $ 6.6 million as schools started vacation.

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