Exhibs overseas generally had a bullish start to the New Year, as “The Lion King” became the second-highest-grossing pic in history, “The Mask” topped $100 million and “Stargate,” “Dumb and Dumber” and a handful of local entries harvested tidy sums.

Tempering some exhibs’ enthusiasm were the fairly fast burnout of “Interview With the Vampire” in Germany and France, and weak contributions in Europe from “Junior” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

The mood was somber in Japan, where one distrib said takings for U.S. films were about level with the previous Christmas/New Year, noting “Speed” is the sole blockbuster. The Keanu Reeves starrer has nabbed $34.2 million in five weeks there, way ahead of “Junior” ($6.7 million in 13 days; it’s healthy everywhere except, oddly, Tokyo) and “Clear and Present Danger” ($8 million in 19 days). “Speed’s” foreign cume is $171.7 million and likely to hit $220 million.

There was some gloom in Germany and the U.K., too. “The New Year weekend was dead, although things picked up a bit this week because schools are on vacation,” lamented one German booker last week. “There are too few good new films.” “OO Schneider,” comedy directed by Ruhr comic Helge Schneider, who plays both a police chief and his murderer quarry, paled in its second frame. Schneider fans rushed to it but the wider public isn’t interested, one exhib theorized.

“It was a dim Christmas,” said a British exhib, noting “The Pagemaster,” “D2: The Mighty Ducks” and “The Never-Ending Story III” all tanked and “Junior” didn’t fire. But there was an upturn Dec. 26 with the arrival of “The Specialist.”

“The Lion King” had grossed $365.5 million through Jan. 5, sailing past “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” ($330 million) to rank second only to “Jurassic Park” in the overseas B.O. league. Expect the cume to surpass $380 million by Jan. 9.

BVI execs claim “Lion King” will match or exceed the dino pic in every major European territory except the U.K. The animated phenomenon has monopolized pole position for seven straight weeks in France (cuming $51.7 million), Germany ($45.6 million) and Spain ($20.8 million). It’s ruled Italy for six weeks, now playing on a massive 496 screens, $25.7 million to date. The U.K. total is $34 million.

Another holiday fave, “The Mask,” surged to $102 million, including $9.2 million after four weeks in Australia and $2.1 million in 18 days on 17 screens in Italy, where it went wide Jan. 6. Yet to open in Japan, the Jim Carrey vehicle looks set to reach $150 million. The only major disappointment is Germany/Austria ($8.7 million in six weeks), where Carrey is unknown (“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” bombed there); “The Mask” was clobbered in successive weeks by “Lion King” and “Vampire.”

New Line stablemate “Dumb and Dumber” is no dunce in its overseas debuts, bagging $877,000 in 13 days on 17 screens in Singapore and $600,000 in 18 days on 11 in Korea.

“Stargate’s” potency caught U.S. tradesters by surprise, and that was no fluke, judging by the first wave of foreign engagements. The sci-fier is a smash in Taiwan, with $1.8 million in 10 days at just nine theaters, and strong in Korea, with $947,100 in 15 days at seven. Other scores include $4 million after 30 days in Spain, $1.6 million in Brazil and nearly $1 million in Thailand.

Aussie exhibs celebrated the New Year with “Interview With the Vampire,” which sucked in $3.9 million in 10 days on 176 prints: It posted the sixth-highest opening week ever.

Rich ‘Richie’

“Richie Rich” pocketed a juicy $1.8 million in the same period on 127 screens. Roadshow launched “Quiz Show” Dec. 29 to critical raves and a sparkling $20,918 average on 13 screens.

Rookie “Little Rascals” delighted lots of tots, while hold-overs “The Mask” and “Forrest Gump” both had a holiday season uplift. In its 17th lap, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” nudged $A15 million ($11.5 million).

Neil Jordan’s “Vampire” has $57 million in the till abroad. It bowed in Korea with a lusty $1.2 million in five days on 22 prints, and in Thailand with $286,500 on 40.

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