'Rings,' 'Potter' stay hot; 'Sky' opens strong

The B.O. temperature in January was just fine overseas, spurred chiefly by the “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” blockbusters (both of which have eclipsed their domestic performances), a winning streak by “Ocean’s Eleven” and dandy — but not dazzling — bows by “Vanilla Sky.”

The immediate outlook is fairly bright, as “Monsters, Inc.” will begin its European adventures, Oscar hopefuls such as “A Beautiful Mind” and “Ali” will launch internationally, and “Black Hawk Down” will continue its foreign campaign.

“For a few years, January has been fairly mediocre in terms of the box office,” was a typical comment last week from an exec at France’s UGC. “But this year has been better than most, so we’re pretty happy.”

Gallic exhibs were ecstatic with the Jan. 27 sneaks and Wednesday opener of “Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra”; some say it’s more sophisticated than its predecessor and should reach an even wider audience.

‘Lord’ holds court

“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” was the pacesetter last week, minting an estimated $32 million from 6,797 engagements, hoisting its cume to $374.8 million. Peter Jackson’s epic was buoyed by magical soph sessions in Italy and Taiwan, and lucrative holdover biz throughout Europe, South Korea and Oz.

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” raked in $13.3 million on 5,161 screens, sending its cume to a dizzying $582.6 million.

Remarkably, “Monsters, Inc.” has overtaken both fantasy phenoms in Mexico, making $18 million through its seventh weekend, to rank as that market’s second-highest grosser of all time, trailing “Titanic.” The Disney/Pixar toon’s cume has reached $50.5 million.

“Ocean’s Eleven” cruised to $65.4 million after banking $13.5 million on 2,139 screens in 17 territories. The casino caper stole $485,000 on 30 in the Philippines, outpacing “Erin Brockovich” and “What Women Want.” The pic retained pole position in its second stanza in Spain, and in its third in Germany and Australia.

Big ‘Sky’ countries

Enthusiastically tub-thumped in Europe by topliners Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz, and helmer Cameron Crowe, “Vanilla Sky” scooped up $20.3 million from debuts in 22 markets and holdovers in seven territories, elevating the cume to $56.1 million.

The remake of Spanish hit “Open Your Eyes” landed at No. 1 in the U.K., France, Brazil, Belgium and Austria, but was No. 3 in Germany. Critics in the U.K. and France were not kind, typified by one Gallic notice that labeled it a “a poor hybrid of ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Mulholland Drive.’ “

The key question will be whether it is sustained by positive word of mouth, mirroring Japan (where Cruise is king), or plunges due to overwhelmingly negative buzz, as happened in Oz. The signs were ominous in Germany, where one booker said folks were befuddled by the pic, and in France, where one exhib predicted, “It won’t have a long career.”

Despite positive reviews, “Enigma” misfired in Germany, limited to 85 prints, as one Teutonic programmer observes that WWII-themed pics continue to be a tough sell there.

The consistent “Spy Game” had a lively debut Down Under and continued to earn tidy sums in France and Japan. Beacon estimated its cume at $54 million.

On its last stop, “The Princess Diaries” was just fair in Japan, on par with “Sister Act.” No sleeper abroad, the Garry Marshall-helmed comedy’s cume is $45.5 million, dwarfed by domestic’s $108.2 million.

In its first foreign tryout, the Nicole Kidman starrer “Birthday Girl” partied in Italy, coming in as a strong second to “Rings.” French import “Amelie” charmed lots of Italos and Argentines, and its estimated cume hit $87.6 million, with Brazil and Mexico ahead.

Miramax is cornering the arty market in the U.K., with “In the Bedroom” collecting a promising $180,000 in six days on 16 screens, including previews, and “Iris” easing by a mere 12% in its second frame.

“Black Hawk Down” held reasonably well in Britain, where exhibs described overall trading as strong.

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

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