‘Rings’ set to lord it over ‘Harry’ after strong bows

Tolkien adaptation opens with $11.5 mil in 13 territories

“Harry Potter’s” international rollout has been swift and dominant, but with “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” hitting most territories last week, the boy wizard’s domination of the overseas box office, which started five weeks ago in Blighty, is about to end.

In the U.K., “Rings” preemed unusually on a Wednesday — day and date with the U.S. and most other territories — to garner $3 million from 466 engagements. The Peter Jackson epic fell just shy of “Harry’s” opening day take of $3.1 million on 507 but rang up a stronger per-screen average.

New Line pic nailed $11.5 million on its debut day in 13 territories including Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland and Spain.

But last week still belonged to the wee wizard of Hogwarts.

Pic has bowed in all major territories except Hong Kong, in which it opens this week, Eastern Europe and smaller Asian territories, which are slated for 2002.

International weekly takings of $67 million, down from $80 million last week, boosted the movie’s cume to $329 million.

“Harry Potter” was still working magic in Germany, while newcomers “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?” and “Memento” failed to spark much interest.

One exhib blames negative reviews of Fox’s “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?” for dismal showing of $461,117 from 252 copies.

BVI’s “Memento” opened at No. 8 with $217,267 from 60 screens. With $3,621 per screen, one exhib says the mystery drama did well with arthouse crowds, but could have benefited from stronger marketing.

In South America, “Harry” faced a challenge from BVI’s “Monsters, Inc.,” which set a new industry record for an animated release in Mexico but dropped 60% in its second week in Argentina. The country was plagued with economic unrest that led to rioting, protest marches and the resignation of the country’s president.

“Monsters” has claimed $10.6 million from 1,325 houses in 20 markets since its first outing Nov. 28.

In Italy, “Harry Potter” maintained the top spot despite an onslaught from three strong newcomers: Eagle Pictures’ “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” which earned a hearty $2,272,605 in six days on 352 screens (cume: $138 million); Medusa’s local entry “The Prince and the Pirate,” from B.O. champ Leonardo Pieraccioni, which plundered a promising $2.4 million from 350 ships; and Medusa’s “Spy Game,” which scored a solid $1.4 million from 140 prints.

Most significant of the arthouse entries and most likely to build over Christmas is Key Films’ “Monsoon Wedding,” from director Mira Nair, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice fest in September. Six-day figure on 43 screens was $144,000.

In Blighty, despite some decent reviews, “The Deep End” struggled to keep its head above water, while “The 51st State” showed good legs in lap two.

French B.O. was dominated by “Harry Potter,” while local laffer “The Three Kings” generated more than $3 million in B.O. to further boost the strong December showing of domestic fare.

Toon “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” (cume: $64.4 million) dropped 40% in its second lap in Japan but only 21% in Germany. It flew well below the radar on its first outing in Italy thanks to “Harry Potter.”

Japan’s smash toon “Spirited Away,” which has garnered $224 million after 22 weeks in release in that single territory, began its international rollout with a launch in Hong Kong. Solid figures bettered local pic “My Life as McDull.”

Tepid reviews ensured Fox’s Gallic debut of “Legally Blonde” was less than stellar. One scribe moaned, “Barbie and her friends deserve better.”

Fox preemed “Moulin Rouge” in China but, with the full week’s figures unavailable, was able to report just the weekend cache of $141,998 from seven key cities. Pic’s overseas cume is $109.9 million.

(John Hopewell in Spain, Ed Meza in Germany, Lee Simkins in the U.K., David Rooney in Italy and Liza Klaussmann in France contributed to this report.)

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