WWII epic earns $7.3 mil, 5% better than 'Armageddon'

Any doubts about how the Japanese would react to its potentially sensitive subject were dispelled over the weekend as “Pearl Harbor” saw a socko debut, smashing Buena Vista Intl.’s territory opening record previously held by “Armageddon.”

The WWII epic amassed $7.3 million on 430 screens Saturday-Sunday plus the prior Saturday’s sneaks, according to BVI’s Sunday estimates.

That was 5% better than “Armageddon’s” bow and 75% ahead of “Saving Private Ryan’s” entry, it ranks as the market’s sixth-highest preem in history, BVI exec VP Anthony Marcoly told Daily Variety.

“Those are very, very big numbers,” said Marcoly, noting the scarcity of multiplexes in Japan means the three-hour opus is restricted to three shows a day in most locations.

Critics in Japan responded more favorably than those in the U.S. and many other markets — in part, Marcoly believes, because, at the outset, some in the Japanese media expected Michael Bay’s romantic drama to be an exercise in “Japanese-bashing.”

Thanks to some judicious editing in the version released in Japan and the pic’s depiction of Japan’s military leaders as noble warriors who were conflicted over the decision to bomb Pearl Harbor, any hint of anti-Japanese sentiment was avoided by the filmmakers.

Informal exit polls indicated strong word-of-mouth, said Marcoly, predicting the film will run through September. He admitted that its second weekend hold will be critical in determining what kind of legs it will have.

All told, “Pearl Harbor” raked in $14.5 million over the weekend, according to BVI’s estimate, hoisting its foreign cume to $150.2 million.

In Japan, “Pearl” faced formidable competition from “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” which brought in $5.4 million from 516 screens in its third weekend, dropping just 17.2%, according to Sunday estimates from distrib Warner Bros.

WB hailed that as the market’s highest third weekend ever, 109% ahead of the comparable frame of “Jurassic Park,” 121% better than “Mission: Impossible 2,” and 124% up on “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” By Warner’s reckoning, “A.I.” cume is a lofty $36.8 million.

WB estimates had “A.I.’s” third lap fractionally ahead of “Pearl Harbor’s” opening weekend, sans sneaks, but BVI is convinced its pic took line honors even without previews.

‘Fantasy’ clicks in Asia

Day-and-date with the U.S., “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” launched pretty well — but not out-of-the-box — in three territories in Asia, a region where the eponymous videogame is very popular.

The computer-animated sci-fier conjured up $398,000 in four days on 25 in Hong Kong, trailing the soph session of Cantonese comedy “Shaolin Soccer” (a Miramax pickup outside of Asia).

“Final Fantasy” took top spots in Singapore ($259,000 in three days on 30) and Malaysia ($183,000 in three days on 35), in both markets surpassing sneaks of “Jurassic Park III.” The dino pic sneaks rang up $210,000 in two days on 50 screens in Singapore and $140,000 in two days on 41 in Malaysia — in both markets topping the three-day previews of “Lost World.”

In its first foreign date, the Rob Schneider laffer “The Animal” fetched an OK $612,000 Friday-Saturday on 300 in Mexico, behind the second lap of “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and the third of “Shrek.”

DreamWorks’ toon captivated Spain, coining an estimated $625,000 Friday-Saturday from 249 locations, ahead of “Pearl Harbor,” which dropped about 30% in its second.

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