Scott's gorefest set to join $100 mil club

While the U.S. B.O. soared in the first two months of this year, it’s been a seesaw ride for exhibs and distribs in key offshore markets. France, Australia and Italy saw healthy upswings while Germany, the U.K. and Spain could not maintain the pace of early 2000.

However, takings in late February and early March are surging in many territories, driven principally by “Hannibal,” which devoured $26.3 million from nearly 3,400 engagements in 19 countries last week, hoisting its cume to $97.1 million. By March 11, Ridley Scott’s gorefest will stand as the fifth hit to mint $100 million this year, joining “What Women Want” (now at $120 million), “Vertical Limit,” “Cast Away” and “Unbreakable.”

The French B.O. in January and February was 23% ahead of the same period last year, propelled largely by a raft of Gallic hits led by “La Verite si je mens! 2,” “The Closet” and “Brotherhood of the Wolf.” In Italy, receipts for the first two months in the key cities monitored by Cinetel (repping about 75% of the national cake) totaled $111.6 million, 13.3% up on last year.

Grosses in Oz spiked by 14% to $77 million, factoring out the impact of the 10% goods and services tax imposed last July. In Germany, the January-February haul was $141.4 million, falling 7% in local currency and 18% in dollars. U.K. grosses in January were 6% ahead. Although February was off 18%, trading was healthy but not at the same level as last year when “Toy Story 2″ and “American Beauty” were dominant.

The Spanish B.O. slipped by 6%, tallying $84.4 million, excluding indie Lauren Films’ contributions, despite a 15% increase in the nation’s screens in the past year to 15,773.

“There’s one big reason we’re down this year: ‘The Sixth Sense,’ which opened in January 2000 and grossed $20 million by the end of February,” one Madrid distrib explains. “This year there are more pics scoring big grosses, although none comes up to ‘Sense.’ “

“Hannibal” whipped up $5.6 million on 620 prints in France (UIP’s fifth-best opening week ever), $1.3 million on 68 in Belgium (the distrib’s fourth-best, just shy of “Mission: Impossible 2″) and $663,000 on 33 in Hong Kong. “The Silence of the Lambs” sequel tumbled by 41% after a killer bow in Spain, racking up $7 million in 13 days, but continued to plummet Down Under, hobbled by the R-rating imposed at the start of its second week and lousy word of mouth.

“Chocolat” cooked up $4.5 million from 906 screens abroad, bringing its cume to $9.7 million in 16 territories.

Pic shrugged off mixed notices in the U.K., resonating especially well in the capital and the major cities, but was ho-hum in France, where critics panned it as an unrealistic foreign cliche. But distrib Bac rates the results as good considering the limited release and believes it will have long legs.

Lasse Hallstrom’s fable had a tasty soph session in Italy and bubbly third laps in Brazil and Oz. Gallic auds turned out for “A Crime in Paradise,” Jean Becker’s local comedy about a guy who can’t stand his wife and asks a famous lawyer for advice on how to kill her and get away with it.

Sam Raimi’s “The Gift” cruised into the U.K. with solid figures, rewarding a smart campaign by distrib Redbus, while “The Legend of Bagger Vance” landed in the rough in its first week wide.

After flunking its first foreign test in the U.K., Gus Van Sant’s “Finding Forrester” redeemed itself in Germany, warmly received by crits and auds, but had low grades in Israel and Greece.

Philip Kaufman’s “Quills” has mustered just $5.5 million in 27 markets, led by Mexico’s $1.8 million and Brazil’s $715,000. The Geoffrey Rush/Kate Winslet starrer had a respectable bow in Australia but was soft in Spain and OK platforming at three cinemas in Italy. The Italo censors slapped an age 18-plus restriction on “Quills,” demonstrating sexual content is treated more harshly there than violence, as “Hannibal” and “The Bone Collector” both had unrestricted tags.

“Cast Away’s” cume levitated to $163 million in 25 territories, buoyed by Japan’s terrif $12.6 million in 12 days (sliding 32%) and $7.1 million in 31 days in South Korea, still No. 1.

Nearing the end of its foreign trek, “Vertical Limit” reached $125.3 million, including $21.2 million earned in 2000.

“Proof of Life” is showing a bit more heft abroad in a less-competitive environment than it faced at home, claiming pole position in Australia — dislodging “Hannibal” — after a promo visit by topliner Russell Crowe generated huge media coverage.

But Crowe’s tubthumping in Italy (where the pic was prosaically retitled “Kidnap and Ransom”) and Spain resulted in ordinary debuts in both markets. “No te fallare,” a sexy spinoff from primetime TV teen school drama “Companions,” notched the biggest bow in Spain by a homegrown pic since Alex de la Iglesia’s “Dying of Laughter” two years ago.

After capturing a solid $12.6 million in Japan, the Kevin Costner starrer “Thirteen Days” opened at No. 1 in Taiwan. Domestic fizzler “All the Pretty Horses” had a lame start to its foreign campaign in Mexico. Despite BVI’s efforts to reposition “Remember the Titans” as an uplifting drama, the Denzel Washington vehicle is meeting the usual kind of resistance to black themed/sports-set films, cuming $6 million in 18 countries. “Titans” had a decent launch in Mexico and has scored fairly well in six weeks in Oz.

(John Hopewell in Madrid, Alison James in Paris, Ed Meza in Berlin, David Rooney in Rome and Lee Simkins in London contributed to this report.)

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