Upscale Nippon males turn out for Tarantino actioner

It was different strokes for different folks last week: Some relished watching George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones lock horns in “Intolerable Cruelty” and others salivated over Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu dueling in “Kill Bill Vol. 1.”

Still, both films are performing erratically in some markets. “Intolerable Cruelty” opened in the top spot in Spain, Australia, Austria, Portugal, Israel and Hungary. But it bombed in Sweden and was wounded in a shootout with Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Vol. 1″ in Norway, Denmark and Finland.

Exhibs in Britain were underwhelmed by the romantic comedy’s preem; one opined it’s “too eccentric for mainstream auds and considered a sellout by die-hard Coen brothers fans reared on more authentic product.” Yet UIP says the weekday figures were terrific, it expects a strong hold and predicts it’ll become the Coens’ highest grosser in Blighty. Battle-of-the-sexes caper was jaunty in Germany, although it trailed local click “The Miracle of Bern,” which expanded in its soph session, drawing folks of all ages, and in Holland. The frame’s pacesetter overseas, “Cruelty” wooed $13.1 million from 2,405 engagements in 22 markets; its cume through Oct. 28 hit $22.3 million and by Nov. 2 will have raced past its puny domestic total.

Although Tarantino’s splatterfest was the victor in Japan, making a record debut for Miramax, some execs in Tokyo were expecting a much bigger bang, since nearly 50% of the pic is set in Japan and in part it’s an homage to Nippon’s martial arts canon. Pic is skewing upmarket, resonating much better in the key cities than in provincial areas and hooking young males rather than femmes who usually comprise the majority of moviegoers. “Bill’s” bow in Italy outgunned those of “Air Force One” and “Gone in 60 Seconds,” coming in behind “Cruelty’s”‘ triumphant second turn. Tarantino’s opus experienced acceptable drops in the U.K. and Germany (after a muted entry, hurt by the age-18 tag) but fell more sharply in Oz, where it’s appealing chiefly to the helmer’s aficionados. Its estimated cume climbed to $31 million in 20 countries, and it appears to have enough momentum to reach $100 million.

Driven by holdovers, “Bad Boys II” surged to $102.7 million in 48 territories, with only Japan ahead. The 20th title to cross the century mark this year, buddy-cop caper held stoutly in France but plunged in Italy.

Now playing everywhere, “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” was poised to reach $100 million by the weekend, eclipsing domestic’s $65.8 million.

While it was a lethargic frame in the U.K., Germany, Spain and Italy, receipts in France shot up by 47%, driven mostly by comedy “Tais-Toi” (Shut Up), toplining Gerard Depardieu and Jean Reno. Crix don’t rate it as one of the better films from helmer/co-writer Francis Veber (“The Closet,” “The Dinner Game”), but word of mouth is terrif. Also spurring the Gallic B.O. was Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” feeding off its Palme d’Or and director prizes at this year’s Cannes fest.

“Finding Nemo” ruled the high seas in the U.K. for the third consecutive weekend, propelling its cume to $136 million in 26 markets, with Japan and continental Europe on the horizon. Michael Caine/Robert Duvall headliner “Secondhand Lions” squeaked in the U.K., its first major market, dismissed by one booker as “an absolute disaster. … Kids don’t want to go and see a film about old people.”

Ending its foreign tour in Italy, “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” opened about as well as in most other places, prompting local exhibs to say it might have done better had it been released much earlier. Led by Japan’s $15.3 million, Angelina Jolie starrer has grossed an estimated $85.5 million — $20 million more than at home.

Clint Eastwood’s admirers turned out in reasonable numbers for “Mystic River” in Italy (a career best for Clint) and Spain. Crime saga doesn’t open big but holds tenaciously, as evidenced by skimpy declines in the U.K. and France. Italo pirate tale “Singing Behind the Scenes” (a Miramax pickup in the U.S.) saw a hearty launch at home, helped by the local cast and the fact it was shot in Rome. But it wasn’t as accessible as “Caterina Goes to the Big City,” saga of a young Italian girl’s first political experiences, which went out on nearly twice as many prints.

“Once Upon a Time in Mexico” fired blanks in France. Oddly, given its moniker, pic bowed handily in Mexico but couldn’t topple the third stanza of “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over,” which posted a company-record debut for Miramax in Russia.

Entering Spain, “Hollywood Homicide” cracked $1 million in its initial weekend — the first time that’s happened in a foreign journey that has yielded a meager $12.6 million in 40 territories. Credit that to Harrison Ford’s stature in Spain and his promo visit to Madrid. Even so, some Spanish exhibs still talk of the market’s B.O. crisis, despite local success “Football Days,” a laffer about losers.

After a limp showing in France, “Dogville” tanked on a relatively wide 74 prints in Germany, where one programmer noted, “It’s gotten a lot of press in the film community, but it’s not a film for mainstream audiences.”

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

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