Abroad still has appetite for historical epics

The box office in the U.K., France, Spain and Italy showed more muscle than Mr. Incredible last week thanks to “The Incredibles,” while Germany saw a modest uplift from “National Treasure.” However Teutonic auds were in no mood to celebrate “Christmas With the Kranks,” and there was a muted response from tykes to “The Polar Express.”

“Alexander’s” generally impressive debuts in 10 territories showed folks abroad still have an appetite for historical epics, as they proved on “King Arthur,” “Troy” and “The Last Samurai.” The Macedonian conqueror claimed the top spots in Russia, Taiwan, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Thailand, Croatia and Malaysia. But it was beaten by the third outing of local “Star Wars” spoof “G.O.R.A” in Turkey and by fellow frosh “National Treasure” in the Philippines.

In their international debuts, “Garden State” blossomed on 55 screens in Australia and “I Heart Huckabees” fared well in London but didn’t resonate in the U.K. provinces. One Blighty booker had no quibble with the 62-print release, perceiving helmer David O. Russell’s quirky pic as a tough sell in the regions, despite warm reviews and its high profile from closing the London film fest.

The weekend’s champ, “The Incredibles” bagged $44.3 million on 4,362 screens in 22 territories, and its cume zoomed to $64.1 million through Nov. 30. The Disney/Pixar pic smashed toon records in Italy and Greece, and although its figures were stellar elsewhere, it didn’t match the bows of “Finding Nemo” in France, Belgium and Hungary, or those of “Shrek 2″ in the U.K., Spain and Israel.

Undercover superheroes notched company highs for BVI in the U.K., toppling “Monsters, Inc.,” and Spain, dethroning “Nemo.” One programmer in Spain said “Incredibles” surpassed his expectations, drawing equally strongly among adults and kids. He noted that due to its length, pic is playing three sessions a day at some locations vs. “Nemo’s” four. Receipts in the U.K. shot up by 71%, France jumped by 63%, Italy was up 22%, Spain gained 20% and Germany rose by 8%.

Beginning its offshore adventures “National Treasure” delivered personal bests for topliner Nicolas Cage in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Philippines. One German exec said the local title, “The Legacy of the Templar Knights,” may have been a bit misleading, suggesting it was an historical saga, and said word of mouth is mixed. The Jerry Bruckheimer production was No. 1 in Australia but exhibs griped it was no better than “The Grudge’s” entry two weeks earlier and wasn’t pro-rata with the lusty domestic preem. Some say Cage is getting too old to be a credible action star.

“Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” raced to $87.6 million in 25 territories, boosted by lusty debuts in Russia (marking records for Universal and producer Working Title), Switzerland and Singapore, its second sojourn in Spain and third in the U.K. and Australia. The Renee Zellweger/Colin Firth/Hugh Grant starrer didn’t shine in Mexico, no great surprise as “Bridget Jones’s Diary” wasn’t popular there.

“Polar Express” chugged into top spot in Mexico and Brazil and was OK in Germany but riding a slippery slope in Japan against the meteoric soph session of local animated pic “Howl’s Moving Castle.” The Tom Hanks starrer is a “little too dour for young kids and not something for older viewers,” opined one German exhib. Warners’ pricey pic held passably in its second stanza in Oz but is skewing so young, it’s lost some evening sessions.

The corny humor of “Christmas With the Kranks” didn’t translate in German-speaking markets or Poland, prompting the German exec to conclude, “Germans just aren’t into holiday films like American audiences.”

It was a bullish frame for Gallic films in France with six local titles in the top 10, led by “Thirty Six,” a gritty film noir from policeman turned helmer Olivier Marchal, starring Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil. “The Forgotten” wasn’t memorable in Holland or the U.K., in the latter disappointing one exhib who expected it to be first choice among 19-25 year-olds. The Julianne Moore starrer did open a bit better than another exec anticipated, given his view that it “starts well but falls apart and is a bit too messy.” Thriller has racked up $27 million in 37 markets, tracking well below domestic’s $66.6 million.

“Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid” gave some bite to the biz in Spain, lifting its cume to $29.5 million in 27 territories, poised to pass domestic’s $31.5 million. The snake tale sucked the life out of “Alien vs. Predator” in its second outing in Spain and the creature feature also fell sharply in Italy, but it’s amassed a sturdy $71.4 million abroad.

After getting stuck in the chimney in France, Mexico and Germany and a ho-hum run in the U.K., “Bad Santa” didn’t start badly in Oz and held stoutly in Italy, where it’s monikered “Bastard Santa.”

Archie Thomas in London, Norma Nebot in Madrid, Ed Meza in Berlin, Sheri Jennings in Rome and Tobias Grey in Paris contributed to this report.

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