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‘Aviator’ flies high on Oscar nom wings

'Fockers' knocks out competish for UIP's third-biggest debut ever

The Oscar noms paid off for “The Aviator” and “Sideways” last week but did little to jazz “Ray,” which is coming up against the kind of cultural dissonance that black-themed pics usually face abroad.

And the seven nods for “Million Dollar Baby” couldn’t prevent Clint Eastwood’s boxing drama from buckling at the knees in its third bout in the U.K. as the triumphant “Meet the Fockers” sucked the life out of most holdovers.

Bucking the trend of downturns in Australia (where biz fell by 20%), Germany (off 17%) and Italy (down 11%), the U.K. B.O. shot up by 53%, single-handedly driven by “Fockers.” The Jay Roach-helmed laffer posted UIP’s third-biggest debut ever locally, benefiting from an age 12 rating, compared with a 15 tag for “Meet the Parents.”

The frame’s champ overseas, the Ben Stiller/Robert De Niro/Dustin Hoffman starrer rang up $18.8 million from 1,626 playdates in 17 countries, and its cume through Feb. 2 vaulted to $62.4 million. Pic also top-scored in Brazil and Portugal and continued to earn tidy sums in Oz, Mexico and Russia.

“Sideways” hit the road with impressive per-screen averages in the U.K. and Australia, its first major markets, and looks set for a long run thanks to its five Oscar bids and glowing reviews.

“Assault on Precinct 13” began its foreign invasion in the U.K., rated as OK by bookers who had no great hopes after its domestic preem.

“Aviator” flew to the top spots on debut in France and Italy but was nudged out by “The Grudge” in Mexico. Gallic exhibs said the ecstatic crix (many hailed it as a “chef d’oeuvre”), rather than the 11 Oscar noms, helped draw folks who otherwise might have not been interested in the Howard Hughes biopic. The French B.O. improved by 11%, also juiced by “Emperor’s Journey,” a local docu on penguins travelling hundreds of miles across the Antarctic.

Leonardo DiCaprio starrer held stoutly in its soph session in Germany, where one programmer said the noms and word of mouth are countering what he sees as three negatives: “It’s a period piece, it’s very long and it’s about a relatively unknown American millionaire (billionaire, actually).”

Martin Scorsese-helmed epic maintained momentum in its third stanza in Spain and in its fifth wide in the U.K.; estimated cume hit $38 million in 22 markets, likely heading for $100 million. “The Grudge” has scared up $50 million in 28 territories.

“Closer” has courted $47.1 million in 28 markets, eclipsing domestic. Mike Nichols-helmed drama reigned in Australia and Taiwan and was tony in Holland. Pic plunged in its second turn in France as “Aviator” landed, but held better in its soph outing in Spain and in its third in Germany.

“Ray” had a respectable debut Down Under but was blah in Japan, Spain, Russia and Sweden. Ray Charles saga has fetched just $9.9 million in 22 markets.

A non-event in continental Europe, Mexico and Southeast Asia, “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera” drew a lusty $4.8 million in four days in Japan, trailing the second turn of “Ocean’s Twelve.” That mirrors the enthusiasm for the tuner in South Korea, where it’s whistled up $11.6 million, the second biggest market behind the U.K.’s $16.9 million; its cume hit $63.4 million, vs. domestic’s $39.5 million.

“Elektra” reigned in Spain, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand and Indonesia. But the “Daredevil” spinoff crashed in its second outing in the U.K.; it’s generated $16.1 million in 19 territories.

Continuing its erratic pattern, “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” was a fairly hot ticket in South Korea but mediocre in Germany. Jim Carrey starrer has racked up $59 million in 25 markets after resonating strongly in the U.K., fairly well in Oz and Mexico, and miscuing in France and Spain.

Warners’ Gallic hit “A Very Long Engagement” opened brightly on limited screens in Greece and Sweden but struggled for air in Germany and Spain. The WWI drama may be too “kitschy and sentimental for Teutonic auds,” said one German exhib, while a Spanish exec opined, “We are pretty disappointed as we thought it’d be a stronger. Perhaps it hasn’t worked well because there are quite a few movies which attract a more sophisticated public.” Audrey Tautou starrer has earned $44.6 million in 19 countries.

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

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