'Columbine' bowls over Blighty

Exhibs were spellbound as “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ” smashed numerous records in nine countries last week as well as expanding the overall B.O. as holdovers benefited from spillover business or provided an alternative for older folks who weren’t in a rush to see the adolescent wiz.

Bookers in the U.K. and Germany weren’t expecting the Hogwarts saga to be impacted by 007’s “Die Another Day” (which launched Nov. 20 in Blighty and bows Nov. 28 in Germany), although they have differing views on “Potter’s” longevity.

One Teutonic exhib predicts “Chamber of Secrets” will hold strongly for weeks despite the looming competition, noting, “While everyone wants to see ‘Harry Potter,’ it’s still aimed at a younger audience than ‘Die Another Day,’ so we don’t see that as critical. It’s great to have a couple of blockbusters bringing viewers back into cinemas. ‘Harry Potter’ has really kicked off the season for us.”

U.K. programmers say they believe the latest “Potter” will track as strong as the original for the first few weeks, but run out of steam more quickly.

In the Nov. 15-17 frame, the not-so-little sorcerer sold 7.1 million tickets on 4,265 prints, including record-busting previews in Japan, and its cume through Nov. 19 vaulted to $67.2 million. The fantasy adventure opened ahead of its predecessor and set industry milestones in the U.K., Taiwan, Switzerland, Austria and the Philippines. Germany’s opening weekend was the second biggest ever in euros, just 3% shy of the first “Harry.” Singapore’s bow was the second highest behind “Jurassic Park: The Lost World” and Malaysia’s was WB’s best locally (outgunning “Eraser”) and the biggest for a family film.

The first edition amassed a phenomenal $651.2 million abroad; one rival distrib forecasts the sequel could fly as high as $700 million, while another is a bit more conservative, projecting $500 million.

Despite the wiz’s invasion, British horror pic “28 Days Later” and laffer “Mr. Deeds” experienced moderate drops in their third outings, while Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” saw a record entry for a docu, playing on 28 screens, garnering strong reviews and word of mouth. The U.K. B.O. soared by 394% from the prior weekend and was 13% up from the same weekend last year, when “Sorcerer’s Stone” preemed and “The Others” was still pulling crowds.

“Red Dragon” withstood the Hogwarts assault pretty well in its third course in Germany. Anthony Hopkins starrer’s cume topped $77 million, and $100 million will be as good as in the bank after its final engagement in Japan in February.

In a slow frame in France, which was off 29% from the previous week, British romantic comedy “About a Boy” was admired by the crix (“A lovely performance by Hugh Grant, who is having fun ripping apart his image as the U.K.’s Prince Charming,” said one), but auds were less enthused. France is the last major stop for “Boy,” whose cume reached $84.8 million. Claude Berri’s “A Housekeeper” took top spot in France by a hair, pulling the writer-director’s many followers as well as those of Emilie Duquenne (Palme d’Or winner for “Rosetta”) as the heroine of this quasi-romantic tale. Continuing its platform at the 2,000-seat Grand Rex Theater in Paris ahead of its Nov. 27 nationwide rollout, Disney toon “Treasure Planet” eased by just 8%, drawing a fine $633,000 in two weeks.

“The Bourne Identity” was tops in Italy, without scaling great heights, and No. 1 again in Spain; its cume hit $65.9 million, with Japan ahead. Italo exhibs say there’s a surfeit of thrillers as “Insomnia” abated by a trifling 9% in its soph session and “K-19: The Widowmaker” opened OK, given the cult status of helmer Kathryn Bigelow, whose “Strange Days” is highly regarded. Director Andrew Niccol and thesp Rachel Roberts visited Rome to hype “Simone” but folks weren’t much interested.

Comedienne Sabina Guzzanti’s directing debut, “Bimba,” in which she stars as a talentless actress unaware of having been cloned, didn’t lure her TV and theater fans in Italy, and local laffer “I Am Emma” was undiscovered.

Aussies are showing a firm preference for light-hearted fare as “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” reigned in its fourth outing, and local comedy “Crackerjack” romped through its second. Remake “The Ring” wasn’t quite as potent as hoped in Oz, handicapped by an MA classification that shuts out kids aged under 15. However, headliner Naomi Watts’ tour was well-publicized and exhibs say it’s creating a good buzz. “The Ring” is showing plenty of zing in Japan but it didn’t spark in Hong Kong. After earning a respectable $10.1 million in its native U.K. and flopping in German-speaking territories and Sweden, “The Guru” didn’t win many converts Down Under, despite Heather Graham’s tub-thumping efforts.

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

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