‘What Women Want’ is Mel, not ‘Hannibal’

'Cast Away' conquers Japan, 'Chocolat' charms Italy

Folks in Germany and Austria, and now Italy, are finding the Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt combo in “What Women Want” more appetizing than Hannibal Lecter — but that’s a minor hiccup for “Hannibal,” which swallowed approximately $33.5 million at the foreign box office last week, vaulting to $71.7 million just shy of three weeks into its overseas flight.

Underscoring another generally frenetic frame abroad, “Cast Away” conquered Japan, “Chocolat” charmed Italy and “Unbreakable” ranked as the second hit to gross $100 million this year.

Sequel to “The Silence of the Lambs” chewed up $4.1 million in six days on 289 prints in Spain (an all-time record for UIP, and the industry’s second-highest behind “Unbreakable”), despite the rival attractions of Carnival and a big soccer match. The Anthony Hopkins/Julianne Moore starrer snared an estimated $2 million in its first week in Brazil, notched UIP’s second-best bows ever after “Mission: Impossible 2” in Mexico and Argentina and made $1.3 million on 94 in Holland (a record opening week, dethroning “Independence Day”).

Ridley Scott’s gorefest had similarly potent preems in Sweden, Denmark, Singapore, Portugal, Israel, Finland, Colombia, Chile and Peru. Pic held fairly well after its monster opening in the U.K., but plunged alarmingly in Australia, torpedoed by the R rating that replaced the original MA-15 tag, and by word of mouth.

“What Women Want” easily retained pole position in Germany (slipping by just 21%) and Austria (improving by 1%), streaking ahead of “Hannibal” in their soph session in both territories. In their third outings in Italy, the cannibal pic surrendered the lead to “Women.”

However, Japan is a weak link for the Gibson vehicle, pocketing a relatively modest $8.3 million through its fifth weekend after being beaten on debut by Gallic surprise “The Crimson Rivers.” “Women’s” estimated foreign cume is $93 million.

“Cast Away” netted $6.9 million in five days on 312 in Japan, including previews, topping the entries of “The Green Mile,” “Forrest Gump” and “Saving Private Ryan.” The Tom Hanks starrer hauled in about $14 million in 26 territories, elevating its cume to $150.4 million; survivor saga reigned in Korea for the fourth straight weekend, amassing $6.1 million.

“Unbreakable” has $140.5 million in the till (including $39 million from calendar 2000), spurred by Japan’s splendid $16.1 million in 23 days. “Vertical Limit” climbed to $119.6 million on the back of moderately good launches in France, Italy and Belgium. By March 5, Martin Campbell’s action-adventure will have racked up $100 million this year after earning $21.2 million last year; it might have enough momentum to double domestic’s underwhelming $68.4 million.

Gallic comedy “La verite si je mens 2” (Would I Lie to You 2) reigned in its third lap amid booming biz in France. Also proudly flying the tricolor flag are rookie “Barnie et ses petites contrarietes” (a frothy comedy by Bruno Chiche, starring the popular Fabrice Lucchini, about a man trying to juggle a wife, a mistress and a male lover) and holdovers “Brotherhood of the Wolf,” “The Closet” and “Under the Sand” (from autuer Francois Ozon, toplining Charlotte Rampling).

Entering France, its last major market, “Bedazzled” found most folks wanted no truck with the devil; the Fox comedy’s cume is $48 million.

Pooch pic “102 Dalmatians” hit $80.9 million, buoyed by France’s fourth round and Holland’s sturdy $669,000 opener on 106 (a smidgen below its predecessor).

Lasse Hallstrom’s “Chocolat” took a mouthwatering $993,610 in six days on 116 screens in Italy, shrugging off critics who dissed it as slight and saccharine. It’s shaping up as Eagle Pictures’ first certified hit since the Milan-based distrib began beefing up operations last year. The Juliette Binoche/Judi Dench starrer also started sweetly on limited screens in Israel and Norway, and had a superb soph session in Oz.

“Billy Elliot” was well received by critics but didn’t open strongly in Italy, probably suffering from having to compete in a very crowded marketplace. Nonetheless, word of mouth is positive, and that kind of British film usually resonates well in Italy. Stephen Daldry’s pic is doing OK in Japan, considering it’s on a slow rollout, playing on 30 screens in its fifth lap. The foreign cume is $59.5 million, with Latin America ahead.

Romantic meller “The Last Kiss” has overtaken last season’s sleeper, “Bread and Tulips,” in Italy, and now stands as the third highest grossing Italo title of the current season.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (estimated cume $50 million) had a feisty debut in Madrid and Barcelona, and looks set to cash in on its Oscar noms. So too does “Traffic,” although it took a hit in its third lap in Spain, almost certainly cannibalized by “Hannibal.”

Vacationing school kids flocked to “The Emperor’s New Groove” in its second stanza in the U.K., where domestic underachiever “Finding Forrester,” in its first foreign tryout, struggled against “Hannibal” and “What Women Want.”

“Meet the Parents” ascended to $121 million, driven by Taiwan’s lively $749,000 in five days on 44 and Hong Kong’s $360,000 in four days on 25.

After soft perfs in the U.K., Sweden, Argentina and Spain, Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” recorded its healthiest bow to date Down Under, reaping the benefits of being released after the Oscar noms and Golden Globes and boasting a fresh campaign by the local branch of Columbia TriStar Intl. The distrib began previewing the pic four months ago, used a sexy poster created in the U.K., devised new TV spots and secured endorsements from the band silverchair and other Oz music luminaries. The payoff was attracting teens and young adults, especially females, who didn’t respond elsewhere.

In Germany there was a reasonable turnout for homemade newcomer “Emil and the Detectives,” a redo of Erich Kaestner’s 1929 classic children’s book about a boy who’s befriended by a gang of street kids after he’s robbed. “Germans grew up reading Kaestner’s books or watching the old films on TV, so there is definitely a nostalgic element for audiences there,” one booker said.

Adam Sandler wasn’t popular in Germany before “Little Nicky” opened last week, and it’s still a case of Adam who? Likewise, Jackie Chan’s 1999 Cantonese-language vehicle “Gorgeous” had few takers.

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