Holiday flicks met with cold shoulder o'seas

Where are the hobbits and the junior wizards when you really need them? Some offshore exhibs are asking that question as biz this month looks likely to fall short of last year’s levels, despite “The Incredibles,” “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” “Ocean’s Twelve” and lesser contributions from “The Polar Express.”

One U.K. programmer summed up the fragile mood when he mused last week, “The huge success of the Potter and Rings movies in past Decembers has inflated industry expectations which cannot and will not be met by the product slated for release this month.”

Execs in Blighty took little comfort from the fact the weekend B.O. was up by 22% on the prior frame and 40% ahead of the corresponding weekend in 2003, thanks largely to “Blade: Trinity’s” slashing bow and “Polar Express’” solid entry. Exhibs were sorely disappointed with the preem of “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera,” which was around 40% below what they’d hoped for. Some reviews were hostile, the Joel Schumacher-helmed pic lacks marquee names, and it’s appealing to older folks who don’t usually rush to catch the first weekend.

Curiously, the musical orchestrated a much bigger opening in South Korea, seizing the top spot ahead of the “Bridget Jones” sequel. The victor overseas for the third straight weekend, “Incredibles’” drew $32.1 million from 6,343 screens in 37 markets. Its cume through Dec. 14 soared to $157.2 million, seemingly headed for $350 million. Superheroes conquered Germany (outrunning “Monsters, Inc.” but below “Finding Nemo”), Brazil (setting a toon record, beating “Shrek 2″), Switzerland, Austria and South Africa. In Germany, “Nemo” was classified as suitable for all ages while “Incredibles” has an age 6 tag and is skewing slightly older. Pixar pic raced through its soph session in Japan (although tracking well below local animated smash “Howl’s Moving Castle”) but it started to tire in its third stanzas in the U.K., France, Spain and Italy.

“Edge of Reason” advanced to $140 million, propelled by swell debuts in France (in euros, level with “Bridget Jones’s Diary”); South Korea (marking records locally for Universal and producers Working Title); and Belgium, and its second turn in Germany.

With Japan ahead, romantic comedy looks capable of surpassing the predecessor’s $210 million haul. The Gallic B.O. surged by 30%, also driven by “The Daltons,” a local laffer based on the “Lucky Luke” comics, starring popular duo Eric and Ramzy, and a handy bow by “Blade: Trinity.” The star power of “Ocean’s Twelve” was a magnet for auds in Australia (although coming in 15% below the original, which opened during school holidays), Thailand (8% ahead of “Ocean’s Eleven”), India (260% bigger than the predecessor) and Malaysia.

Takings in Italy dropped by 13%, despite the arrivals of “National Treasure,” which posted the second biggest entry for producer Jerry Bruckheimer behind “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” and “Closer” in its international preem. “Closer” is just about the only offering for upscale auds apart from French import “Intimate Strangers,” which initialed strongly on just 34 screens. The Nicolas Cage-headlined “Treasure” wasn’t as lucrative in Spain, where exhibs despaired as the B.O. plunged by 30%.

In a promising start to its offshore travels, “Seed of Chucky” invaded Spain, 40% stronger than “Bride of Chucky.” “Polar Express” steamed along to $50.2 million in 45 countries and has a shot at reaching $100 million, depending partly on how well it withstands the launch of “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

The Tom Hanks starrer notched No. 1 bows in Taiwan, Norway and Greece and fared OK in Belgium. The Robert Zemeckis-helmed fantasy may not open big but it’s clearly pleasing ankle-biters (if not always their parents), as evidenced by its resilient second chapters in France, Italy and Spain.

“It’s done better than we expected; it’s keeping a good pace, as in the U.S.,” said one Madrid booker, who noted a lot of kids who saw “Incredibles” then caught “Polar Express.” The Christmas tale has been well received in Germany and Mexico but was ho-hum in Japan.

“Alexander’s” estimated cume marched along to $26 million in 21 territories, mostly small fry, driven by its top-ranked bow in Hungary and holdovers in Mexico, Russia and Greece.

“Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Red Orchid” lacked venom in Germany, where one exhib sniffed, “It looks like something to pick up at the video store; movie tickets aren’t cheap and viewers are choosing carefully what they see in theaters.” However the snake pic has scored well enough elsewhere to gross $32 million, edging past domestic.

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

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