'Gangs,' 'Chicago' kick into high gear

Traffic in the awards season corridor isn’t as congested overseas as it is in the U.S. That’s partly because several Oscar hopefuls won’t be launched until the Berlin fest. Nonetheless, most of the award contenders are out there raking in big bucks abroad.

Already it’s clear “Gangs of New York” is resonating more strongly internationally than domestically, as you’d expect with a serious, upscale period drama with the added cachet of topliner Leonardo DiCaprio. Prospects for “Chicago” are very bright, judging from its dazzling debut in Australia and its high-kicking second week wide in the U.K. after its three-week London platform.

The awards hoopla arguably is icing on the cake for crowd-pleasers like “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “8 Mile” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

However, in its first offshore engagement, in Oz, “Adaptation” hasn’t worked outside of arthouses. As one exec noted, “It’s a bit perplexing for mainstream audiences, and, for word of mouth, it’s being killed by ‘Bowling for Columbine.’ “

Through Jan. 28, “Gangs” had rustled up an estimated $58 million from just 14 markets, propelled by classy bows in Italy, Holland and Greece and leggy holdovers in the U.K., France, Belgium and Japan. Exhibs credited its success to mucho media coverage for the preem attended by helmer Martin Scorsese, DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis, as well as Scorsese’s cult status and the fact it was filmed at Rome’s Cinecitta, utilizing Italo craftsmen.

“Chicago” posted the highest per-screen average in the top 10 Down Under and “The Quiet American” had a terrific second round, helped by local helmer Phillip Noyce’s stature, as exhibs hailed December/January as record months.

In the U.K., Miramax’s tuner is sure to benefit from its 12 BAFTA noms. “About Schmidt” saw handy numbers in Blighty fueled by reviews and Jack Nicholson’s Golden Globe gong, and it stands to benefit from his BAFTA bid as well.

Universal/UIP’s “8 Mile” unwrapped $11.6 million from 2,012 locations in 25 markets Jan. 24-26 and its cume hit $49.2 million. Eminem vehicle kicked butt in Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Finland and Portugal, but was less impressive, although still No. 1, in Singapore and the Philippines, where he isn’t a big star. Pic was still the market leader in its soph sessions in Australia and the U.K.

“Two Towers” vaulted to an estimated $427 million Jan. 28 from holdovers in 51 markets and a stunning $2.8 million four-day preem in Russia, and it’s tracking 17% ahead of the original. In its sixth orbit in Germany, New Line’s blockbuster surrendered the lead to “Greek Wedding,” which according to one booker “attracted lots of curious people who heard of its incredible success in the U.S.” He added a rider: “For the most part, it’s getting a good reception, although there are many that come out wondering what all the hubbub was about.” Indie phenom’s estimated cume topped $90 million, with plenty of upside as France, Japan and South Korea are to come.

“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” overtook “Jurassic Park” to rank as the third highest grosser ever abroad, amassing $569.8 million. The Hogwarts saga wowed auds in China, conjuring up $2.2 million in five days. After an extraordinary nine-week reign in Japan, the boy wiz was dethroned by “The Bourne Identity” in its final port of call; thriller’s cume is $80.7 million.

Capitalizing on the star power of Steven Spielberg, DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, “Catch Me If You Can” was the front-runner in Spain and South Korea.

“Die Another Day” seized $1.2 million in five days in Denmark, a Fox/MGM/James Bond record locally and the industry’s fourth highest ever. The 007 caper levitated to $217.2 million, with Japan and Italy ahead.

“Hero,” China’s bid for the foreign-language Oscar, conquered Thailand (notching $567,000 in five days) and Malaysia, but experienced typical drops in its second outings in Taiwan and Singapore. In each case, Zhang Yimou’s epic has broken the opening records for a Chinese-lingo pic.

In France, “Rire et chatiment,” saga of a wisecracking osteopath whose humor is tested when his wife walks out and his friend dies from a fit of laughter, marked a winning feature debut for actress-helmer Isabelle Doval. Pic co-stars her husband, Jose Garcia, who’s hot after such hits as “Would I Lie to You” and “Jet Set.”

In its first offshore appearance, “Punch-Drunk Love” did OK on 146 screens in France, drawing mostly glowing reviews and one with a back-handed compliment for the director: “Paul Thomas Anderson has success and talent. The only complaint: He knows it. The only hope: that he knows it and mocks it.”

(David Rooney in Rome, Liza Klaussmann in Paris, Ed Meza in Berlin, John Hopewell in Madrid and Archie Thomas in London contributed to this report.)

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