O'seas B.O. stronger than in Games frame

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the U.S., the overseas box office generally seems to be idling — but not in comparison with the corresponding period in 2000. In local currency, B.O. volume in the Sept. 12-16 frame in most major markets significantly outstripped that of a year earlier.

To be sure, the Sydney Olympics commanded the world’s attention this time last year, when many distribs held back their big films. Even so, the Italo B.O. was 70% ahead of the same weekend in 2000, Australia was up 39%, Germany was 38% in front and Japan was 30% bigger, according to one Hollywood numbers-cruncher. There were healthy gains in France (11%) and the U.K. (12%). The two conspicuous losers were Brazil (off 39%) and Mexico (down 16%).

True, there are more screens now in most of those territories than a year ago, and ticket prices have edged up, but the current batch of U.S. and national films is demonstrably stronger than last September, when “U-571,” “Scary Movie” and “Hollow Man” topped the charts.

Gauls order ‘Swordfish’

In hindsight, it may not have been the most propitious time to launch the terrorist-themed “Swordfish,” yet the John Travolta/Hugh Jackman starrer did OK in France, trailing the stellar soph session of Gallic rural drama “Une Hirondelle a fait le printemps”; the thriller took top spot in Belgium and Holland, albeit with unexceptional numbers. The Warner/Roadshow pic’s cume reached $40.9 million, with a bunch of markets including Germany, Japan and Taiwan still ahead.

“A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” depicting a post-Apocalyptic Manhattan at the end of the world, didn’t suit the prevailing psyche, reflected in mediocre preems in Australia, New Zealand and German-speaking markets. “It is a somber film. People were definitely in the mood for something a little more lighthearted,” opined one Teutonic booker, who lauded holdovers “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and local Western spoof “Der Schuh des Manitu” as popular diversions.

The marketing campaign for “A.I” was disrupted Down Under as most TV spots were bumped by the wall-to-wall coverage of U.S. events; nonetheless, the sci-fier’s cume hit $105.6 million, the 16th title to cross $100 million this year. “The Princess Diaries” opened bigger than “Inspector Gadget” and “George of the Jungle” in Oz, positioned to cash in on the school vacation which has just started in two states. Disney’s kidpic has had a fair run in Taiwan, where this genre isn’t strong.

Apes rule Russia

Still the frame’s pacesetter overseas, “Planet of the Apes” captured $11.3 million from 4,091 engagements in 36 markets, hoisting its cume to $159 million. The primates saga conquered Italy and set an all-time opening record in Russia, notching $957,000 in six days on 60 screens, with sneaks.

Nicole Kidman starrer “The Others” bowed impressively in Italy and reigned in its soph session in Spain. Despite the apes’ invasion, “Save the Last Dance” held fast in its second lap in Italy, where “The Navigators,” Ken Loach’s comedy-drama about South Yorkshire railway workers, got limited mileage from its warm reception at the Venice Film Fest. “The Unsaid,” a psycho-thriller starring Andy Garcia, was shut out by “The Others,” and BVI’s “Crazy/Beautiful” was neither.

“Moulin Rouge” ruled in its second stanza in the U.K. and had a respectable curtain-raiser in Hong Kong behind fellow frosh “Scary Movie 2″ and local pic “Horror Hotline: Big Head Monster.”

‘Fast’ fair in Blighty

Actioner “The Fast and the Furious” entered Blighty at a fair clip, considering its lack of marquee names and the likelihood that its car-culture milieu won’t resonate abroad. Word of its domestic success had spread across the Pond, and critics were effusive. The Vin Diesel vehicle mustered a moderate $1.7 million in 12 days in Mexico, falling 40%. Frequently under threat from the IRA, the Brits are more used to terrorists than are people in many other countries, and exhibs said the B.O. is running at a predictable post-summer pace.

“A Knight’s Tale” led the field in Mexico (where ticket sales were flattened by Independence Day celebrations), the Philippines and South Africa, but was a lowly fifth in Belgium. The medieval romp had fair holds in its second jousts in Germany and Spain.

Domestic dud “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” launched in its native Japan as a distant No. 2 behind Toho’s toon “Spirited Away,” which raced past “Princess Mononoke” to claim the mantle as the highest-grossing Japanese pic ever and now has “Titanic,” the market’s all-time champ, in its sights.

Israelis — along with the rest of the world — could do with a laugh, and “American Pie 2″ caused plenty of merriment in that country, yukking up $413,000 on 30 screens in a promising foreign debut.

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

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