'MiB2' adds traction to overseas box office

School vacations in some markets combined with the offshore launches of “Men in Black II” and continuing rollouts of “Minority Report,” “Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” “Spider-Man” and “Lilo & Stitch” to give the summer B.O. much needed traction last week.

Still, biz dawdled in several major territories including Germany and France, while Spain saw a modest upswing after a protracted slump.

The “Men in Black” sequel stole $11.7 million from top-ranked bows on 1,129 screens in five territories July 5-7, and through July 9, had racked up $14.6 million. Although the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones starrer’s $6.6 million haul in four days in Japan was on par with its predecessor, it ranked as a distant No. 18 in the territory’s all-time openings. Remarkably, its per-screen average wasn’t much better than the impressive fourth lap of “I Am Sam” at some locations.

The sci-fi comedy lost a chunk of its potential audience to SRO second weekend sneaks by “Attack of the Clones,” which launched July 13. Also, one Tokyo exec posited that as the sequel is perceived locally more as a comedy than an FX-driven event, the humor may not translate as successfully as the original. Sony can take great heart from ” MiB2′s” record-busting entry in Russia (minting $2 million in five days on 150) and its strapping debuts in Australia, New Zealand (where it was 18% up on the first edition and the market’s fifth highest ever) and Colombia (the seventh biggest).

Resonating more powerfully overseas than at home, “Minority Report” wowed the U.K. and recorded Fox’s second-highest openings of all time in Hong Kong (behind “Independence Day” ) and Thailand (trailing “Star Wars: Episode One” ) The sci-fi thriller also clicked in Sweden, Singapore and Malaysia. Nearly three weeks since its international launch in Oz, the Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise combo has prefigured $23.8 million in 11 countries.

Takings in Blighty jumped by 41% over the previous weekend, but were down 9% on the same weekend last year when “Shrek” was packing cinemas, so exhibs were happy, but not deliriously so. One London booker wasn’t surprised “Minority” opened big, despite its less-than-dazzling U.S. preem, given the positive reviews and Cruise’s drawing power.

Also showing more heft abroad than domestically, the Jedi Knights saga levitated to $229.7 million, propelled by uniformly stellar liftoffs in Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Korea, where it notched a Fox record and the market’s fourth best in history.

Blasting off in Holland, its last major market, “Spider-Man” spun $1.3 million in six days on 128, rated by Sony as the second-highest preem behind “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The Sam Raimi helmed epic vaulted to $331.6 million July 9 as school vacations gave it a leg up in France, Germany and Oz.

Disney’s “Lilo & Stich” led the field in Germany, landed in Spain as a solid No. 2 behind the third orbit of Spidey, and top-scored in Austria and Israel (where it stands as the third-highest animated bow). “It’s gotten great reviews and is getting positive word of mouth,” observes one German programmer. “It’s a hip movie and works well with adult viewers, (but) it’s been tough getting moviegoers into cinemas when the weather’s so nice.” “Lilo” sported sturdy legs in its soph sessions in Mexico, Brazil and France.

Teutonic exhibs were cheered by the turnout for “We Were Soldiers” in the face of a welter of critical pans. “It shows that Mel Gibson is still popular,” one booker remarked, noting Gibson had one of last year’s biggest hits there with “What Women Want,” although he doubts “Soldiers” will endure. Its estimated cume is a disappointing $23.5 million, with only Mexico, Brazil and Italy ahead.

In Spain, biz was buoyed by the Hugh Grant/Toni Collette starrer “About a Boy” and “The Wrong Side of the Bed,” a local contempo musical enjoying excellent word-of-mouth and shaping as the summer’s Spanish sleeper. Both titles “will be around for a long time,” one Madrid exhib predicts.

Fox’s “Ice Age” posted the third-highest toon debut in Belgium and surged in its second outing in France, where the B.O. nonetheless was down by 12% on the prior week and 4% below the same week last year; “Ice’s” cume topped $147 million.

In its first foray outside Blighty, “Bend It Like Beckham” scored handsomely Down Under, netting the frame’s fattest per-screen average, while holdovers “Scooby-Doo” and “Snow Dogs” continued to hook lotsa kids.

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

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