'Ransom,' 'Evita' buck blah foreign B.O.

January is supposed to be one month when the U.S. majors fire a lot of heavy artillery in overseas territories, but the guns have been mostly silent this time.

“Ransom” is doing explosive business and “Evita” is blazing brightly (except in France), but a bunch of other releases are missing the target. “Courage Under Fire,” “The Preacher’s Wife” and “Phenomenon” are more like water pistols than cannons.

Typifying the malaise, ticket sales in France in the first three weeks of the year were down by at least 30% vs. 1996, according to one Gallic programmer who griped, “The box office is very depressed.” He was speaking Jan. 22, the day “Ransom” launched, accompanied by hopes of a B.O. resurgence.

The exhib was pleased with David Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” given its “difficult” subject, which in its world preem (it goes out in the U.S. Feb. 21 via October) made $772,000 on 87.

“Ransom” extorted $2.8 million in six days on 229 in Italy, an all-time high for Buena Vista Intl.; $1.3 million in four days on 131 in Brazil; and $641,000 in three days on 200 in Mexico, a record for a January preem and for a BVI live-action release, beating “Die Hard With a Vengeance” by 25%. Ron Howard’s thriller had excellent holds in its second laps in Spain, tallying $6.2 million, and in Holland for $1.8 million, while in Germany it climbed to $14.7 million after three weeks. The cume topped $70 million.

“Evita” hit an estimated $31 million, spurred by the U.K.’s $12.9 million through the fifth weekend (off only 19%), Germany’s $3.7 million in 14 days and Austria’s $634,000 in 13 days. However, Alan Parker’s musical isn’t hitting high notes in France, at least outside Paris, taking $352,000 in 10 days at 11 theaters.

The surprisingly durable “Daylight” ascended to $85.4 million, fueled by Japan’s $15.6 million, Spain’s $9.3 million, Korea’s $6.3 million and the U.K.’s $5.9 million.

In the U.K., tradesters said January has sorely lacked high-profile titles, and they’re hanging on for “Ransom,” which bows Jan. 31 in London and goes wide the following week. “The Ghost and the Darkness” chipped in with $1.4 million in six days on 265, a reasonable draw in the capital but lackluster in the provinces. “The Preacher’s Wife” tanked there and wasn’t much brighter in Germany after corpsing in Japan. “Shine” widened from 24 to 33 screens in its third recital in Blighty for a superb $1.4 million.

After being felled by critical blasts in the U.K., “The Mirror Has Two Faces” had soft landings in Sweden and South Africa (again suffering from negative reviews). Barbra Streisand’s romance had middling debuts in France and New Zealand, but got a highly enthusiastic response in Spain, where the critics were kind and Streisand is adored; Spain was the most lucrative foreign territory for her “Prince of Tides.” Said one exhib with a Latino flourish, “It’s made the Spaniards forget the soccer and heavy rain and fill cinemas with female longing.”

Manuel Gomez Pereira’s comedy “Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health” has scored a sparkling $1.6 million in 10 days, encouraging one exhib to predict it could be the year’s biggest home-grown hit.

“The First Wives Club” delivered a boisterous $744,000 in six days on 52 in Italy and collected $1.2 million from lively debuts in the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Portugal and Israel. The cume reached $52.7 million, including a fair $2.4 million after two weeks in France. “The Nutty Professor” bounded into Sweden for a smart $376,000 in six days on 60 and has garnered $708,000 in 12 days on 15 in Korea; foreign total is $129.3 million.

There were handy contributions from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which advanced to $214.3 million, and stablemate “101 Dalmatians,” which reached $58.9 million, including a socko $27 million in the U.K. “Independence Day” hauled in $4.5 million in its seventh orbit in Japan for $68.1 million to date. Its massive cume of $473.9 million ranks as the second highest in history behind “Jurassic Park.”

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