'English' spoken in U.K., Germany, S.E. Asia

The Easter vacation overseas was predictably good for comedies and family fare — but there were a few surprises, not all of them pleasant for distribs.

Given the wide gap in their domestic trajectories, U.K. programmers did not expect “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” to be beaten by “Phone Booth.” Joel Schumacher’s thriller was boosted by the popularity of Irish co-lead Colin Farrell and by auds’ willingness to embrace more challenging films as the Iraq conflict winds down. Exhibs noted “Guy’s” Matthew McConaughey isn’t a marquee name in the U.K. and his pic suffered from reviews that derided it as formulaic and unimaginative.

In Germany, “How to Lose. . .” started respectably but was no match for the second turn of “Johnny English.” The Rowan Atkinson headliner was the Easter frame’s standout, minting $19 million in 38 territories April 18-20, and its cume through April 22 vaulted to $59.2 million. The spy spoof helmed by Peter Howitt was stellar in Southeast Asia (outperforming the bows of Atkinson’s “Bean” in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong) and Latin America. Demonstrating remarkable holding power, the Working Title production was the market leader again in the U.K., Germany, Austria, Italy and Australia and held stoutly in Spain.

Ticket sales in most territories over Easter were below the comparable frame last year when “Ice Age,” “Monsters, Inc.” and Oscar-winner “A Beautiful Mind” were big draws. Italy was a notable exception as biz was 28% up on last Easter, while the U.K. was down 22% and Spain was off 4%. Mirroring its anemic U.S. entry, “Bulletproof Monk” stumbled in the U.K. but was more arresting in Taiwan and Hong Kong, drawing Chow Yun-Fat’s admirers.

“Maid in Manhattan” reigned in Spain only by virtue of previews, and local exhibs opined the J.Lo vehicle would have benefited from being released earlier. Romantic comedy was a solid No. 2 in Brazil behind the second turn of Hector Babenco’s prison drama “Carandiru,” and its estimated cume hit $56.5 million, with Japan ahead.

In light of its modest U.S. gross, “Dreamcatcher” is doing O.K. abroad, catching $17.8 million thus far in 35 markets. Morgan Freeman starrer was sturdy in Spain, Mexico, Taiwan and Brazil, so-so in France, Japan and Holland but weak in Sweden and SARS-blighted Hong Kong.

Takings in France edged up by just 1% on the prior week as one exhib griped, “We haven’t seen an American blockbuster since ‘Catch Me if You Can.’ ‘Chicago’ and ‘The Hours’ did well, but they were for a more focused audience.” Gallic 1940s-set comedy-drama “Bon Voyage,” featuring Isabelle Adjani, Virginie Ledoyen, Yvan Attal and Gerard Depardieu, was warmly received by auds and by reviewers who hailed the comeback of helmer Jean-Paul Rappeneau (“Cyrano de Bergerac”).

“Chicago” kicked up its heels in Japan, its final major market, propelling its estimated cume to $102 million, the seventh title to cross $100 mill overseas this year. Tuner ranks as Miramax’s highest-earner ever in the U.K. ($25.9 million), Australia ($10.7 million), South Korea ($4.5 million in four weeks), Russia ($2.1 million) and Greece ($2 million).

Kicking off its foreign travels, “Anger Management” top scored in Oz, and although it was impacted a bit by “How to Lose a Guy” sneaks, exhibs are hoping the Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson starrer will climb to $9 million. Local comedy “Fat Pizza” cooled considerably after its tasty debut, indicating it’s not playing more broadly than young males.

“The Jungle Book 2″ swung to $62.3 million on the back of lucrative soph sessions in the U.K., Spain, Mexico and Oz, Italy’s third stanza and Germany’s fourth. Domestic flop “The Hunted” isn’t resonating any better abroad, typified by its desultory bow in Germany, where one exhib sniffed, “Still another ‘cat and mouse’ film with Tommy Lee Jones?”

“The Core” crashed in France, as it has in most places, but redeemed itself with a decent liftoff in Italy; sci-fier has pocketed about $20 million in 34 markets.

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

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