'Episode I' tops original outside N. America

SYDNEY — Eclipsing its source, “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace” last week surpassed the original film’s all-time outside-North America gross of $337 million to reach $339.1 million off 24 territories.

Still holding the top spot in Japan after nine weeks, ahead of debutante “Notting Hill,” which also made a big splash (almost doubling “My Best Friend’s Wedding”), “Menace” dropped 27% for a week’s gross of $2 million, pushing the pic’s Japanese cume to a staggering $92 million.

Altogether, “Menace” jumped by $19 million this week, including $13.6 million from a weekend that was otherwise average.

Both “The Matrix” and “The Mummy” fared well, with record-breaking bows in Turkey and Greece respectively. “The Mummy” also maintained a solid pace in its sophomore sesh atop Italy’s box office, just ahead of equally popular startup “Entrapment,” but trouncing underperforming newcomers “Wild Wild West” and “Instinct.”

Other preems included “The 13th Floor” in Italy and Australia, Antonio Banderas starrer “The 13th Warrior” and Oz pic “Paperback Hero,” both of which tanked in Blighty, and “The Thomas Crown Affair,” which failed to crack the million mark in Germany.

However, the George Lucas epic remained top-five in most major territories from Germany ($35 million) to Spain ($16.7 million) and the U.K., ($75 million), bringing the European tally alone for “Menace” so far to $148 million, with bows in Italy, Poland and France still to come. Fox execs now expect the pic to rake in at least $450 million, while maintaining that good runs in France and Italy could well push it over $500 million and past “Independence Day.”

With attendance totaling 4.9 million over 18 just days, “Menace” continued to bring joy to German exhibitors in particular, who are otherwise bemoaning the passing of summer.

The market also settled in France and the U.K., where the end of school holidays and a dearth of big new pics dampened business. Both “South Park” (cume $6 million) and “Never Been Kissed” ($4 million) suffered disappointing, if not unexpected U.K. drops of 52% and 46% respectively, with only Doug Liman’s “Go” bowing to a solid $1.2 million from 218 sites.

Liman’s pic also benefited from good Blighty word-of- mouth, unlike Tim Roth’s directorial debut “The War Zone,” which managed only mediocre business on a handful of screens despite positive reviews. Almodovar’s “All About My Mother,” however, enjoyed another fine U.K. week, down only 17% for a limited release 13-day cume of $500,000.

In moribund France, word of mouth kicked in for “South Park,” which added 79 copies but remained steady in third place for a two-week $2.9 million cume behind Roman Polanski’s “The Ninth Gate,” down 33% for a cume of $4.91 million, and the winning romance of topper “Notting Hill” sitting pretty on a three-week cume of $15.5 million.

A mixed bag of local French fare also saw Regis Wargnier’s rollercoaster relationship with Gallic auds continue, his latest effort “Est, Ouest” (“East, West”) registering more as downpoint, despite the presence of Sandrine Bonnaire and Catherine Deneuve in this post-war story of French-based Russians returning to the Soviet Union. On a happier note, Pierre Jolivet shot out of left field with “Ma Petite Enterprise,” winning great reviews for his social comedy about a small business that burns down only for the owner (Vincent Lindon) to discover he’s been the victim of insurance fraud.

Down Under, Julia Roberts’ “Runaway Bride” has once again absconded with the nation’s heart for a blushing two-week cume of $4.7 million, followed closely by promising sneaks of “Tarzan,” which clocked in at second place, despite not going wide until Sept. 2.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the mojo is still working for sophomore “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” and Sean Connery’s “Entrapment,” now in its fourth week. A two-week Japanese cume of $3.78 million has “Powers” pushing an international total of more than $67 million, with many markets still to come. “Entrapment” has drawn $11.7 million in Japan, bringing its foreign cume to $113.8 million.

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