B.O. shows only a few ‘Signs’ of life abroad

Euro pix have hard time drawing in auds

It’s been a stuttering start to the fall season abroad, with British bookers griping last week about fragile business apart from a stellar “Signs” entry, Germany and Spain still suffering from a summer-long slump, and folks in France enjoying an Indian summer.

European films aren’t doing much to stimulate ticket sales, as most of the Italian films launched at the Venice fest aren’t resonating with Italo auds, and Gallic exhibs are severely disappointed with hoped-for blockbuster “L’Adversaire.” Despite the presence of the hugely popular Daniel Auteuil, “L’Adversaire” plummeted in its third lap and surprisingly was outgrossed by local docu “To Be and to Have,” which is showing much better stamina.

“Signs” was the top earner overseas, harvesting $15.7 million from 2,677 engagements in 25 territories in the Sept. 13-15 frame, and its cume through Sept. 17 jumped to $45.7 million. In the U.K., M. Night Shyamalan’s pic set records for a September preem and for a BVI live action release, beating the helmer/writer’s “The Sixth Sense,” and marking a personal best for Mel Gibson (outrunning “What Women Want”).

The British B.O. was up 8% on the prior weekend, due solely to “Signs,” as one programmer described overall biz as sluggish after rating August as the most disappointing month of what had been a very good year.

The suspenser spooked Mexico, raking in $4 million in five days on 475 screens (another BVI live action high, outgunning “Pearl Harbor”) and landed in Germany on par with “Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable.” However, one Teutonic exhib said he expected “Signs” to open about 30% higher, blaming the recession for the market’s 10% summer dropoff.

“We are seeing changes in consumer behavior, evidence that people are being more careful with their money. People are thinking twice about going out to eat or going to the movies, and it’s showing,” he said, adding that Constantin’s romantic comedy “Wie die Karnickel” and the Oscar Wilde adaptation “The Importance of Being Earnest” were both blah.

“Signs” was uniformly strong as it launched in Switzerland, Austria and Malaysia, while powering through its soph sessions in Holland and Sweden.

Lauded by the critics, “Road to Perdition” ruled in soft trading in France and should benefit from word of mouth. The Tom Hanks starrer fetched $928,000 in five days in South Korea and was tops in Taiwan and Belgium. The Sam Mendes-helmed period drama typically isn’t opening big but sports sturdy legs, typified by modest declines in Spain (where it was No. 1 last week) and Germany.

Winding its foreign tour in Italy, “Men in Black II” surpassed the original by 8% but ranked as the market’s 17th biggest debut, below its usual top 10 status; sci-fi comedy’s cume hit $230.3 million. “About a Boy” befriended plenty of folks in Italy (where auds are partial to British romantic comedies) and did OK in Japan, upping its total to $66.2 million, with France the only major territory ahead.

In Italy, Lucky Red expanded Venice winner “The Magdalene Sisters” with solid results as the pic continued to generate stories, including reports from Ireland from survivors of the convent experience depicted, who verified the authenticity of director Peter Mullan’s account. About the only other notable Venice holdover, “A Journey Called Love,” has tapped into the romance market and the popularity of the fest’s best actor winner Stefano Accorsi.

Vin Diesel vehicle “XXX” revved up Australia (a tad below “The Fast and the Furious”), making last week the first to show an increase on last year after the previous six weeks each ran behind 2001. Actioner is positioned to cash in on school vacations, which began Sept. 21 in some states. “XXX” also seized pole position in Turkey and South Africa.

“Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course” drew a fair number of Steve Irwin fans Down Under after finding few takers in the U.K., while Cate Blanchett’s admirers didn’t spark to her in “Heaven.”

“Reign of Fire” ignited in Thailand, devouring $763,000 in five days, similarly reigned in the Philippines, and was quite potent in South Korea. The dragonslayer tale has collared $15.9 million in 21 countries and with seven major markets still to come, is a sure bet to overtake domestic’s $41 million.

After sinking in Germany, “K-19: The Widowmaker” surfaced impressively in Spain, fueled by a visit by topliner Harrison Ford. “He hadn’t been to Spain for many years and attracted massive media coverage,” said one Madrid exhib.

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

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