'Four' cume just under $80 mil while toon brings in $190 mil

After Warner Bros.’ “Batman Begins” failed to connect the way Sony’s “Spider-Man” franchise did in key international territories, questions were raised over whether foreign auds were tired of Hollywood’s continuing spate of superhero pics.

But Fox’s “Fantastic Four” seemed to prove otherwise: The ensemble pic bowed in 38 markets, pulling in $24 million with good showings in the U.K. and France.

The solid perf still wasn’t good enough to knock UIP’s “Madagascar” out of the No. 1 spot internationally, which the toon has held now for two weekends in a row; “Fantastic” settled for a No. 2 bow.

UIP’s initial estimates on “Madagascar” were short. Company reported the pic took in just over $20 million when it in fact made $25 million, including a healthy haul from Korea, where UIP does not distribute.

After the July 22-24 sesh, “Fantastic’s” cume sat just under $80 million, while “Madagascar” has risen to $190 million thanks to few rival family films.

UIP’s tentpole “War of the Worlds” continued a solid worldwide run, taking in $18 million last weekend and raising its international cume to $291 million.

Though it performed poorly in the U.S. for DreamWorks, Michael Bay’s “The Island” floated to somewhat better results overseas, where it’s being handled by Warner Bros.

Pic, released in only nine Asian markets so far, took the fourth spot overall last weekend, thanks to a good showing in Korea, where it racked up nearly $6 million. Pic cumed more than $10 million internationally in its opening sesh, and might have made more if it hadn’t coincided with Japan’s earthquake.

Fox’s “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” continued to perform well for the studio, raising its international cume to more than $145 million.

Fox’s “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” grossed nearly $5 million and has an overseas cume of $426 million.

On the family front, Warner Bros.’ “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” showed promising returns in a handful of territories, taking in $13 million overall, including $9 million from France. Pic has yet to be rolled out in key territories such as the U.K., Germany and Japan.

In the U.K., overall biz was up 7% over the previous frame, and up a solid 33% compared with the same weekend last year. Favorable weather and “Fantastic Four” fueled biz despite continued public concern over the recent London bombing scares.

Weather mostly helped “Fantastic,” which scored $6 million its opening weekend in Blighty despite some negative reviews. Exhibs are relieved the actioner has “done its job” early on, as they believe it will drop off steeply. “It plays very young indeed, and will struggle to compete with ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Madagascar’ in its second weekend,” says one exhib.

(U.K. tradesters predict a 50%-60% soph dropoff for “Four,” which would mirror pic’s domestic slide. Final projections are in the $17 million-$20 million region.)

Meanwhile, “Madagascar” dipped just 9% in its soph frame.

New Line comedy “Wedding Crashers” has proved a bona fide hit in Blighty. Exhibs attribute success to a canny trailer, and to the fact that there are few other appealing laughers. One exhib also suggested recent news events could be affecting the pic’s appeal. “A genuine comedy is what fraught audiences crave at the moment,” he said.

Word of mouth is robust; pic looks set to outgross previous Vince Vaughn starrer “Dodgeball” ($17 million.) Cume forecasts are in the $17 million-$20 million range.

Looking ahead, hopes are very high for “Chocolate Factory” because of the Brit public’s fondness for Johnny Depp, Tim Burton and Roald Dahl. But the pressure is on: Bookers will be disappointed if the pic does not clear $7 million on opening weekend and $26 million-$34 million by its end.

In France, B.O. rose 24% compared with the prior week thanks to “Fantastic’s” $6 million opening and “Charlie’s” second sesh.

“Fantastic,” a brand with little exposure previously in France, outperformed exhibs’ expectations thanks to an aggressive PR campaign explaining its story.

Pic’s showing was even more surprising given that its cast is not well known in France.

In the No. 2 spot, “Charlie” lost a very minimal 12% in its soph sesh, whipping up $4.3 million.

Pic’s success, according to one Gallic exhib, was due to its “mix of the cerebral and the infantile.”

“War of the Worlds” also held admirably in its third week, seeing revs drop only 27% and taking in $3.4 million.

“It used to be that 10 years ago only arthouse films were released during the summer months,” says one French exhib. “Now French audiences are getting used to the idea of the summer blockbusters, and this one fits the criteria.”

On the local front, Gallic sequel “Russian Dolls” saw its gross rise 4% in its sixth week as the pic heads toward the same success as its predecessor, “Europudding.” Pic appeals to 20- to 35-year-olds.

Author Dahl’s name is likely to boost prospects for Burton’s “Charlie” in Germany as well. Pic opens there Aug. 11.

“Madagascar” and “Smith” bolstered the German box office by 26% last weekend. Cloudy skies and rain throughout the country gave the pics a hand. ” ‘Madagascar’ had a perfect start, going out with very little competition and taking advantage of school holidays,” notes one exhib.

For older auds and females, the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie combo in “Smith” was a plus. With $5.35 million, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” achieved the best start of any second place opener this year.

Italo B.O. took another steep drop — by 19% compared with the week prior. Exhibs blamed a lack of product — “Madagascar” and “Smith” are not yet open there — and weather.

A couple of horror pics in release, including “Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning” and “Land of the Dead,” failed to capture much attention.

Spanish cinema also slumped 18%, thanks to a religious holiday and sunny weather that lured auds away on holidays. “Fantastic” was a highlight there. “Audiences were tired of ‘Batman,’ but comics usually work well in Spain,” says one exhib. “(‘Fantastic’) is a simpler and more accessible film.”

Ed Meza in Germany, Sheri Jennings in Italy, Archie Thomas in the U.K., Liza Klausmann in France and Esther de Prado in Spain contributed to this report.

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