Ledger pic lures Aussies; Euros realize 'Fantasy'

“A Knight’s Tale” lanced the top spot in Australia and New Zealand this weekend in its international debut, while “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” kept auds real in Germany, Spain and Italy, where nine pics preemed in the first week of the official box office season.

In Oz, Sony’s “Knights” jousted with stayers “Planet of the Apes” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary” to take pole position and earn $1.2 million from 241 houses. The medieval romp benefited from a long lead tour by its star, Heath Ledger, a favorite homegrown thesp. New Zealand’s $168,000 and South Korea’s opening weekend of $626,000 from 62 screens delivered an international weekend gross of $2 million from 344. Next week, pic rolls out in Malaysia, Singapore and some parts of Eastern Europe.

“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” and “Blow” also bowed in Oz, but failed to rate, with screen averages of $2,564 and $3,500, respectively.

“Final Fantasy” spun auds in Germany, Spain and Italy but proved slightly less popular in Belgium, Austria, Venezuela and Finland. The seven-territory opening weekend contributed to a gross of $7.2 million from 2,750 screens — cume is $27.7 million.

Italian feast

In Italy, the start of official ratings season ended the summer dry spell with a big bang for bookers. Hollywood premieres included “Final Fantasy,” “Driven,” “Dr. Dolittle 2″ and “Spy Kids,” but warm weather prevailed and pics failed to lure many Italians into theaters.

Even as “Final Fantasy” benefited from lots of press coverage for its innovation as a live-action CGI feature, it got lukewarm response with a weekend screen average of $3,768, although that was far ahead of any other wide release on the chart.

Other freshmen were much softer. Distribs will be counting on more muscular pics like “Jurassic Park III,” “Planet of the Apes” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” all due in the coming weeks, to really kickstart the season.

France welcomed Tim Burton’s “Apes,” which grossed $6.57 million on its opening weekend on 742 screens — admissions were almost double the opening weekends of “Pearl Harbor,” “Jurassic Park III” and “The Mummy Returns.”

Fox’s “Moulin Rouge” opened No. 1 in Brazil with $424,000 from 142 screens. International cume is $21.5 million, with European preems kicking off in the U.K. Sept. 7.

“Jurassic Park III” earned $7 million over the weekend, including premieres in Russia, Sweden and Turkey. Cume is $137 million.

UIP’s bowing “Bridget Jones’s Diary” won the top spot in Austria with $247,000 on 81 screens, but had a softer screen average than the country’s other wide opener, “Final Fantasy,” in the third spot with $230,000 from 49.

In Germany, “Final Fantasy” earned $2.5 million from 616 screens while “Bridget” nabbed the No. 2 slot with $1.8 million from 506.

“A.I. Artificial Intelligence” bumped “Rush Hour 2″ — and not much else — to take the top spot in Hong Kong with $897,000, 41% of the box office.

(David Rooney in Rome contributed to this story)

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