‘Fifth’ helps charge sluggish Italo B.O.

ROME — Following disappointing performances from a string of big-budget U.S. action entries that have consistently underwhelmed Italian audiences this season, the downward trend for the fall’s heavyweight imports has been interrupted not by fresh muscle from Hollywood, but by Euro blockbuster “The Fifth Element.”

Launched Oct. 30 by local distrib Filmauro, Luc Besson’s sci-fi actioner earned close to $2.5 million in its opening weekend on the 153 screens tracked by national box office monitoring service Cinetel. Playing in 280 theaters nationwide, the French comic-strip spectacular has clocked receipts of $3.5 million in its first four days.

Those results make it by far the best opening weekend of any foreign blockbuster released during the current box office season, which began in September and runs through June 1998.

Coupled with the knockout debut of local hit comedy “Fireworks” — which bowed with an astounding $9.2 million weekend and has gone on nationally to take $30.9 million in less than three weeks — the sterling business of “The Fifth Element” further underlines the lackluster results of recent big guns from the U.S.

Beginning with earlybirds “Con Air” and “Batman & Robin,” continuing with “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “Air Force One” and “Men in Black” and carrying through to more recent openers “Face/Off” and “The Peacemaker,” all of the major fall releases have struggled unsuccessfully to overtake the $2 million mark in their debut weekends in the territory covered by Cinetel.

The sub-par performances of these releases is considered largely to be responsible for a 21% drop in business during the current season’s first seven weeks, with revenues down by $12.5 million on the same period last year and the number of tickets sold dipping by 2 million. …..

While “The Fifth Element” has proven its B.O. might in several worldwide territories, the Gallic hit may be the first film in Italy to benefit from the wave of new-season moviegoers brought back to theaters by the success of “Fireworks.”

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