A monster B.O. season

Apes, dinos fuel fall after hot summer o'seas

Coming off a generally hot summer box office, most major markets have enjoyed a rousing kickoff to the fall, driven chiefly by “Planet of the Apes,” “Jurassic Park III,” “A Knight’s Tale” and “Rush Hour 2.”

One Hollywood maven estimates the U.S. majors racked up $3.6 billion in theatrical grosses outside North America in the first eight months of this year — about on par with the corresponding period in 2000.

Add to that national standouts led by Japanese toon “Spirited Away,” German comedy “Der Schuh des Manitu,” Gallic fairy tale “Amelie” and a slew of Korean crowd-pleasers, plus U.S. hits handled by indies, and there’s little doubt the foreign B.O. is outpacing last year.

“The summer overall was definitely better than last year,” enthused one German booker, lauding non-Hollywood fare including “Der Schuh” and the upscale “Amelie,” and attributing success in the territory, in part, to the Tuesday half-price ticket gambit that’s been so successful, it’s being extended.

The “Apes” remake saw socko debuts in Germany, Belgium and Spain, where it smashed the all-time opening weekend record set by “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.” Helmer Tim Burton has a huge following in Spain; pic will have much stronger legs than it showed in the U.S., according to one Madrid exec. Primates saga, the frame’s top-earner, chest-thumped $25.6 million in 38 markets, hoisting cume to $131.8 million. In light of its second weekend drops of 50%-plus in some markets, it held fairly well in France and actually improved by 12% in Holland after a heatwave-impacted bow.

Fray francais

But no U.S. pic managed to stay atop the French B.O. for more than one week through the entire summer, and “Shrek” turned out to be Hollywood’s highest earner there.

The “Rush Hour” sequel had its pedal to the metal in France and South Africa, doubling the original’s debut in both territories, and it also sped ahead in the Philippines. The Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker vehicle is drawing youngsters in France, in contrast to the U.K., where its high-speed run has been fueled by older auds. “Absolument Fabuleux,” the Gallic movie based on the British sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous,” toplining Nathalie Baye and Josiane Balasko, began smartly, but time will tell whether its appeal goes further than TV fans.

Dino Italiano

“Jurassic Park III” launched the new season in Italy with an emphatic $2.4 million on 296 screens — just 8% below “The Mummy Returns” and 13% shy of “Gladiator.” The flying dinos landed Down Under slightly below expectations, skewing fairly young. Pic’s figures and the disappointing results for “Apes” underline the risks of opening such films outside school holidays, one Oz programmer opined, while noting the lizard pic will have to hold its own against “The Fast and the Furious” (Sept. 20) and the “Rush Hour” sequel (Sept. 27) to keep its screens and session times until vacation starts Sept. 29.

The carnivores swallowed $12.1 million from 2,900 engagements in 26 countries, propelling cume to $154.1 million, boosted by solid preems in Thailand (trailing the third round of local click “Suriyothai”), New Zealand and Poland.

Sony’s “A Knight’s Tale” entered Blighty at a fast clip, but its medieval subject didn’t resonate in Singapore or Malaysia. In its soph sessions, the Heath Ledger starrer maintained momentum in Korea (off 12%) and Oz (slipping by 34% but pro-rata outperforming the U.S.).

“Bridget Jones’s Diary” wooed $8.7 million on 1,304 screens in 18 markets, elevating its total to $116.8 million. The romantic comedy charmed Korea to the tune of $542,000 in five days on 54 (streaking ahead of “Shakespeare in Love”) and jumped by 30% in its second turn in Germany, where cooler weather boosted biz overall.

“Pearl Harbor” climbed to $235.5 million, spurred by Greece’s $680,000 in six days on 88 (the industry’s fifth-highest opening), the final significant market in its foreign tour.

True to form, “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” plunged by 56% in Spain and 53% in Germany after OK entries, but it defied gravity better in Italy (off 35%) and Belgium (easing 31%); cume topped $36 million, a bit more respectable than domestic’s $32.1 million, with Japan ahead.

(Patrick J. Breen in Munich, John Hopewell in Madrid and Loick Vella in Paris contributed to this report.)

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