Blighty bow bodes well

Boy wizard mints $23.7 mil in U.K.

Harry Potter” was a bigger phenom in Blighty than even Warner Bros. had figured, as the opening weekend tally of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (as it’s known in most offshore markets outside Asia) zoomed past the studio’s Sunday estimates.

The boy wizard minted $23.7 million on 1,168 prints in the U.K., including the prior weekend’s sneaks, thrashing by 72% the market’s all-time record held by “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace,” which made $13.4 million, with previews.

Various other records tumbled: “Harry’s” 3-day bounty of $13.9 million beat the previous high set by “Toy Story 2” by 26%. Saturday’s $5.7 million haul stands as the biggest single day in U.K. history, topping the same pic’s takings one week earlier.

And Sunday’s $5.1 million ranks as the third-biggest day ever. All told, “Harry Potter” commanded a whopping 82% of the top 15 titles’ B.O.

The Chris Columbus-helmed fantasy was nearly as impressive in Taiwan, posting $2.3 million in two days on 58 screens — a local WB record but only the industry’s fourth-best in Taipei behind “The Mummy Returns” (which had the advantage of going out during holidays), “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Mission: Impossible 2.” Its $1.1 million Taipei bonanza was 125% better than “Phantom Menace’s” comparable opening, 138% ahead of “Men in Black” and 140% up on “Titanic,” and it accounted for 90% of the top five films’ market in the Taiwan capital.

The stage is set for a monster frame next weekend as the fantasy rolls out in 15 territories including Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Brazil, the Philippines and Singapore.

Based on the socko numbers in the U.S. and the first two offshore markets, hefty advance ticket sales in countries like Japan and Australia, and general audience awareness and expectations, one rival distrib believes “Harry Potter” is capable of reaching $400 million overseas.

Whether it has the stamina to catch “Phantom Menace,” which grossed $494.5 million abroad, will become clearer a few weeks into its rollout.

But it would be folly now to talk up “Harry” as another “Titanic” (the all-time international champ at $1.2 billion), since James Cameron’s epic had the hot combo of 11 Oscars, heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio, and visual splendor, which resulted in uprecedented repeat business, especially among teenage girls.

In those terms, if “Harry” has a slight handicap, it may be that it plays fairly young and may not crossover widely with adults who don’t go to the movies as part of family groups.

Elsewhere, the B.O. alchemy last weekend wasn’t nearly as potent. “Legally Blonde” courted $2.1 million on 413 in Germany, a shade behind “Scary Movie 2,” which plunged by 46% after a feisty debut, pocketing $7.1 million in 11 days on 671. The Reese Witherspoon starrer did seize pole position in subdued trading in Spain, fetching $650,000 on 200. “Scary 2’s” cume hit $60 million from 42 territories.

Spurred by lusty bows in Thailand, Hungary and New Zealand, “American Pie 2” topped $100 million, the 18th title to cross that milestone overseas this year. Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge” can-canned into Japan, its last major market with a ho-hum $962,000 in two days on 240, slightly better than the debuts of “Autumn in New York” and the helmer’s “Romeo + Juliet.” The tuner’s cume scaled $98 million, so it will reach the century mark by the weekend.

“Bridget Jones’s Diary” peaked at $201 million, the fourth blockbuster to reach the $200 million pinnacle this year after “Pearl Harbor,” “The Mummy Returns” and Japan’s “Spirited Away.”

Nearing the end of its overseas duel, “A Knight’s Tale” cantered into France with an unexceptional $782,000 on 448, and eased by just 23% in Italy, where it’s scored a stout-hearted $1.6 million in 10 days. Its cume is $54.4 million. Rogue cop saga “Training Day” gunned down a respectable $990,000 on 184 — including previews — Down Under and in Italy it mustered a so-so $699,000 on 184.

“The Others” levitated to around $55 million, driven by the U.K.’s thrilling $10.2 million and Mexico’s $6.8 million (both in its third outing) and Australia’s solid but not stellar $2.8 million in 11 days (off 30%).

“Atlantis: The Lost Empire” sank without trace in Holland ($85,000 on 86) but held well in its soph sessions in Sweden and Denmark, tallying $800,000 and $470,000 respectively. Its cume reached $36.1 million.

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