Iraq war, SARS worries keep auds indoors

Europeans seemed more pre-occupied with the Iraq war TV coverage and the spring weather than with patronizing cinemas last weekend, while severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has devastated biz in Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.

Hence no single title stood out as “Daredevil,” “Just Married,” “The Recruit” and “The Jungle Book 2″ were the leaders in one or two markets, generally with figures that were no better than solid.

“Daredevil” was the frame’s top earner, raking in an estimated $8 million from 4,500 screens in 45 markets, propelling cume to $58 million, including New Regency’s territories South Korea and Switzerland.

Italian welcome

Comicbook actioner took pole position in Italy, trapping $1.3 million on 249 prints (bowing bigger than “The Matrix”) and New Zealand ($304,000 on 60). But the Ben Affleck starrer wasn’t strong in Japan, picking up $1.6 million on 354, beaten by “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” which conjured up $1.7 million in its seventh orbit. Peter Jackson’s blockbuster has amassed $53.7 million in Japan, 79% of the original’s lifetime gross, spurring cume to $558.9 million.

“The Jungle Book” sequel reigned again in Germany, whistling up $2.5 million (abating by just 1%) for a muscular $5.7 million in 11 days. In Austria the pic spiked up by 37%, tallying $920,000 in 10 days. Disney toon drew a promising $482,000 on 137 in Italy and will expand to about 400 prints for the Easter holidays; cume reached $42.2 million in 26 markets.

“Just Married” ruled in Spain with $1.3 million on 252 and wooed an OK $1.9 million on 528 in Germany, $360,000 on 60 in Austria, $245,000 on 31 in Switzerland and $226,000 on 35 in Belgium. All told, Fox’s comedy minted $5.1 million from 1,488 engagements in 19 markets, sending the total to $24.8 million.

Al Pacino-Colin Farrell starrer “The Recruit” was the victor again in the U.K., drumming up $1.2 million in its second sojourn (easing by just 17%) to up cume to $3.6 million, and in its second in Belgium (racking up $738,000 to date, slipping 7%) and Holland ($750,000, off 18%). Estimated cume is $21 million in 20 markets.

Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom starrer “Ned Kelly” clung to the top spot Down Under despite a 44% plunge, corralling $890,000 for a sturdy $2.9 million in 11 days.

Three U.S. titles began their foreign travels in Australia. “Bringing Down the House” brought in $812,000 on 214, rated by one exhib as rather disappointing in light of the comedy’s stellar U.S. results. “Dreamcatcher” nabbed a reasonable $700,000 on 155 (No. 1 in some locations), and “What a Girl Wants” fetched $598,000 on 170, ahead of the school vacation that begins in some states this weekend.

‘Maid’ to order

“Maid in Manhattan” served up a nifty $925,000 on 300 in Italy and a top-ranked $286,000 on 65 in South Africa. Romantic comedy has pocketed $45.1 million in 49 territories — a personal best for Jennifer Lopez internationally (toppling “The Cell,” with $42.6 million) as well as domestically.

“Shanghai Knights” mustered $1.2 million on 371 in the U.K. (a hair below “Recruit”), nearly 10% bigger than “Shanghai Noon.” Vin Diesel vehicle “A Man Apart” coined a ho-hum $833,000 on 330 in Blighty, no great surprise in view of its U.S. entry at No. 3 last weekend.

“The Core” unearthed $361,000 on 54 in Taiwan, $234,000 on 28 in Singapore, including previews, $194,000 on 42 in Malaysia, with sneaks, and $163,000 on 29 in ailing Hong Kong — No. 1 in all.

Less appealing in Europe, UIP’s sci-fier collected an unexciting $1.2 million on 534 in Germany and plummeted in its second weekend in the U.K. (tallying $1.9 million to date, down 46%) and Spain ($1.6 million, off 52%). Similarly wobbly in Mexico, pic fell by 44%, taking $1.9 million in 10 days.

Mixed ‘Tears’

“Tears of the Sun” captured a buoyant $880,000 on 124 in South Korea, a so-so $665,000 on 300 in Mexico, $215,000 on 72 in Thailand and a soft $130,000 on 28 in Hong Kong.

Clearly Mexican moviegoers would rather see men in dresses than toting guns these days: Rob Schneider vehicle “The Hot Chick” top scored in its second lap, making $935,000 (abating by a mere 17%), for a terrif $2.7 million in 10 days.

Gallic laffer “Chouchou” set the pace in France for the third consecutive weekend, dropping by just 23% and upping its market tally to a juicy $13.9 million.

“Goodbye, Lenin!” ascended to $30.5 million in its eighth outing in Germany, clocking 4.7 million admissions and becoming the second-highest-grossing Teutonic pic in the past three years, behind “Manitou’s Shoe.”

Local comedy “The Moscow Gold” eased by a moderate 34% in Spain, ringing up $1 million and a jolly $2.9 million in 10 days.

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