Male star power helps boost new openers

'XXX,' 'Bourne,' 'Boy,' 'Photo' do well abroad

The star power of Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Hugh Grant and Mel Gibson helped guarantee good-to-great launches for their films in various territories last week, while there were mixed results for the Vin Diesel vehicle “XXX” as it kicked off its foreign expedition in Southeast Asia.

Infusion of new product combined with a drop in temperatures after the recent heatwave sparked a modest B.O. rally in Europe, while biz in Japan got a modest boost from rookies “Windtalkers” and “Austin Powers in Goldmember.”

The Rob Cohen-helmed “XXX” seized pole position in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, comfortably beating the bows of “Vertical Limit,” which scaled $146 million abroad.

The Sony/Revolution Studios’ actioner was No. 1 in Hong Kong but below “Limit,” performing in line with the expectations of one local programmer who didn’t think it would register strongly after Diesel’s previous pic, “The Fast and the Furious,” flopped there. Hong Kong auds prefer male leads who are handsome or at least charming, the booker said, opining with brutal candor, “Vin Diesel is considered to be ugly and unappealing.” Indeed, Sony/Revolution face a challenge to establish Diesel as a marquee name as “Fast and the Furious” barely hit top gear abroad, grossing $62.6 million.

Damon was on hand to tubthump “The Bourne Identity” in Taiwan, its first foreign date, paying off with $1 million in three days on 53 screens, UIP’s biggest debut of the year there and the industry’s sixth best of 2002, behind the spring/summer tentpoles.

Launched in Spain day-and-date with domestic, Fox’s “One Hour Photo” clicked, as one Madrid exhib noted that folks are relishing the chance to see Robin Williams playing a psychopath.

“About a Boy” was tops in a so-so frame in Germany, benefiting from euphoric critics like one who called it a male answer to “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and rated topliner Grant’s perf as his best yet. The romantic comedy also scored sweetly in South Korea, Belgium and Switzerland, propelling its cume to a handy $49.6 million in 25 markets.

“Signs” mesmerized Thailand, reaping $703,000 in five days on 86, a personal best for a Mel Gibson starrer, 20% bigger than “The Sixth Sense” and almost triple “Unbreakable.” The supernatural thriller set a BVI record in Venezuela (beating “Dinosaur”), but plunged in its second lap Down Under, indicating word of mouth isn’t as favorable there as in the U.S.

In its world preem, “The Guru,” Working Title’s fanciful tale of an Indian dancer who masquerades as a sex guru in Gotham, ruled in the U.K., despite a critical drubbing. Pic got plenty of media coverage from its leads Heather Graham, Marisa Tomei and Jimi Mistry.

Entering BVI’s first markets after a slow burn in Sweden, “Reign of Fire” showed teeth in France (on par with “Deep Blue Sea”) and Mexico (30% bigger than “Anaconda”), and was solid in Blighty. “Men in Black II” was still the front-runner in its third frame in France and its cume towered at $202.6 million, with Spain and Italy ahead.

The Adam Sandler/Winona Ryder starrer “Mr. Deeds” led the field in Australia, about the same as “Big Daddy” and ahead of “The Wedding Singer,” and maintained momentum reasonably well in Germany. “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” misfired in Oz, its first offshore try-out, despite a hefty campaign by local distrib Roadshow and the usually bankable Sandra Bullock.

John Woo’s “Windtalkers” notched its healthiest bow yet in Japan, a rare highlight in a foreign trek that has yielded a lousy $16.1 million in 18 territories. “Goldmember” started OK considering the previous edition grossed a moderate $9.3 million in Japan. “Scooby Doo” hit $100.4 million, the 10th title to crack $100 mil this year, helped by Sweden’s top-ranked but not exceptional opening and Japan’s so-so soph session.

Winding its foreign tour of duty, “We Were Soldiers” did well enough to take top spot in Italy; Gibson isn’t infallible, reflected in “Soldiers'” estimated cume of $33 million, which pales beside domestic’s $78.1 million. Healthy entries by “Jeepers Creepers” and German import “The Experiment” indicated Italo kids are starting to drift back to cinemas after spending summer at the beach. “Blade II” had a decent hold while newcomers “Frailty,” “Jimmy Neutron,” “Requiem,” “The New Guy” and “Death to Smoochy” all corpsed. Ditto “Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra,” despite the presence of voluptuous national star Monica Bellucci.

(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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