Titans’ Japan bout

'Ring,' 'Monsters' duke it out at box office

Japan was the big box office player this past weekend with the debuts of powerhouse pics “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and “Monsters, Inc.”

“Rings” bowed strongly despite a warm spell in some key cities and direct competition from “Monsters” for younger auds. School exams are slated for the following week.

The four-day tally for “Rings” totalled $9.1 million from 600 screens — well shy of “Harry Potter’s” $16.84 million from 645 in its four-day opening. International cume for “Rings” is $466 million, with just a few minor markets left to go.

“Monsters” reaped $5.8 million from 460, bringing its international cume to $150 million, and pic is awaiting debuts in Italy, France and Belgium.

“Ocean’s Eleven” added strong debuts in minor Euro territories to the broad slew of successful outings. Weekend gross from 50 territories topped $15 million and boosted cume to $213 million for Warner and Village Roadshow, with only three minor Euro territories plus Egypt still to open.

In Blighty, the B.O. was buffeted by the start of a new school semester, so distribs released only small pics or reissues into the market, which is dominated by blockbusters and Oscar contenders.

“Ocean’s Eleven” strengthened its market position to take the top spot (three-week cume is $23 million), and “Monsters, Inc.” dropped 46% while its worldwide gross pushed past $400 million.

Not so ‘Beautiful’

Tradesters were disappointed by perf of “A Beautiful Mind” on 378 screens after a narrow platform the previous weekend; cume is $2.5 million.

In its first international outing, Mark Pellington’s supernatural thriller “The Mothman Prophecies” opened with a three-day take of $1.1 million from 287 prints — not great, but exhibs weren’t expecting much more after downbeat reviews.

“The Shipping News” received a strong push by topliners Kevin Spacey and local gal Judi Dench to scoop a promising $140,000 from 23 prints; it goes to 167 sites this week.

Larry Clark’s “Bully” ($56,000 from 17 sites) was lackluster, “Charlotte Gray” (10-day cume of $1.4 million) dropped by 49%, and “Don’t Say a Word” was off by 36% for a cume of $1.8 million in 10 days.

German film critics displayed their trademark loathing of sentimentality by delivering mixed reviews for frosh “A Beautiful Mind.” Six-day B.O. of $1.9 million from 349 disappointed exhibs.

The French box office fell 27% even though the frame included the last few days of the winter holidays. Pathe’s “Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra” has pocketed $58.3 million in five weeks and remains king of the B.O. but still dropped 46% in the last frame.

Stinging like a bee

Michael Mann’s “Ali” translated overwhelmingly strong reviews into a strong $4,000 per-screen average that was nevertheless shy of the debut for Pathe’s “Amen.”

The French-lingo pic from Costa-Gavras, about the Catholic Church’s involvement with the Third Reich during WWII, polarized commentators in France, not least because the poster melds the swastika with the cross.

A far-right Catholic org lobbied the national French film watchdog to change the poster; the request was refused, and the resultant publicity translated into B.O.

French debut of “The Shipping News” was less than stellar after pic was panned by critics who objected to its sentimentality and slowness. Across the border in Spain, Lauren Films made more of the pic. International cume from 14 territories in $3.79 million.

Debuts of “Kate and Leopold” in Italy and Turkey were reasonably strong for a Hollywood romantic comedy. Pic’s eight-territory cume is $3.9 million.

In Australia, sneak previews of “A Beautiful Mind” on 280 prints garnered the top spot at the expense of “Black Hawk Down” in its second lap. The Phillip Noyce-helmed “Rabbit Proof Fence,” which slipped from third to fourth in lap two, still landed strong per-screen averages.

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

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