Foreign territories still hog wild for Hogwarts

The old year ended with a bang overseas, and the new year had a fairytale start thanks to Hobbits, and a fresh burst of interest in Hogwarts kids and James Bond, augmented by a sprinkling of homegrown hits.

But the holiday season saw its fair share of misfires as “Treasure Planet” was eclipsed by kid-friendly competition in Italy and Australia, and the French said “bah, humbug” to “The Santa Clause 2″ (as they did to the original). Disney’s “Planet” has fetched a reasonable $33.4 million, and with the U.K. and Japan ahead, could top out at $70 million- $80 million. “Clause 2″ has collected $28.8 million; the first “Santa” made only $50 million. Meanwhile, DreamWorks’ toon “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” barely mustered a gallop in Italy, ending its foreign tour with a modest $42.6 million in its saddle bags.

“Sweet Home Alabama” was the only new romantic comedy on offer in Italy, but auds weren’t overly interested, probably hindered by lack of recognition for Reese Witherspoon ( whose “Legally Blonde” was a low-profile summer release there) and bland local title “Blame it on Love.” “Alabama” is resonating much better in the U.K, Oz and Germany, tallying $26.2 million abroad to date.

Upscale items proved to be attractive counterprogramming to family fare Down Under, as “Adaptation,” “Frida,” “Bowling for Columbine” and Gallic import “8 Women” opened impressively.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Tours” raked in $64.4 million from 6,460 playdates in 28 markets Dec. 27-29 and its cume through Jan. 1 flew to $236 million. Thus far, the sequel has smashed all-time opening records in Australia, Germany, Holland, New Zealand, Scandinavia and Switzerland. Generally, Peter Jackson’s epic is tracking well ahead of its predecessor, and bookers in Germany and France are confident it will outdo “Fellowship of the Ring.” The last weekend of the year in Germany saw 3.7 million visitors packing cinemas — a record for the year and the best in recent memory.

Benefiting from spillovers from “Rings,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” amassed $34.6 million from 8,540 engagements in 53 territories, and its total through Jan. 1 soared to $476.1 million.

Takings for “Die Another Day” surged in Blighty, France and Germany, and its 41-territory cume reached $167.3 million.

In its first offshore tryout, “Chicago” is hitting high notes in its London platform, ringing up $272,000 in six days; Miramax pic goes wide in Blighty Jan. 17.

In Italy, 2002 finished even better than the prior year, helped by hot local comedies “The Legend of Al, John and Jack” and “Christmas on the Nile.” However “Legend,” a Gotham-set Mob comedy, isn’t holding as well as previous films from the trio Aldo, Giovanni & Giacomo, and in its third lap was the only title in the top 20 to lose ground last weekend. “Nile” is showing greater holding power, and could finish with around $31 million. Distrib Eagle garnered stellar reviews for “Far From Heaven,” which looks to be a steady niche performer. Lucky Red was expecting more from “Bend It Like Beckham” but said its results are in line with those of Germany and France, and it should do comparable business to “East Is East” in Italy.

In France, “Le Papillon” (The Butterfly), saga of the journey of a collector of butterflies and a young girl, had an exciting soph sesh, helped by a big boost in screens.

All top 10 films in Spain enjoyed healthy gains Dec. 27-29. The crits for “Rings 2″ were effusive, typified by one in the well-read film mag Fotogramas who hailed it as a masterpiece of narrative dexterity. The other stand-out was Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” in its third outing.

(David Rooney in Rome, Liza Klaussmann in Paris, John Hopewell in Madrid and Christian Kohl in Cologne contributed to this report.)

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