Blighty alrighty

As Europe B.O. drops, U.K. holds steady

As box office continues to dip and dive in so many foreign markets this year, it’s looking like the U.K. is one piece of turf that might offer a Hollywood ending.

For the Jan. 3-Oct. 30 period, box office grosses were down 21% in France, 20% in Germany, 18% in Italy, and 12% in Spain.

But U.K. B.O. is down only 3%: Total B.O. is $1.18 billion vs. $1.22 billion during the same frame in 2004.

A real possibility exists, then, that 2005 U.K. biz can match last year’s healthy numbers. That’s because several big-budget, high-profile pics have Brit roots this year.

When “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” outpaced exhibs’ predictions and in just three weeks passed the final Blighty take of Aardman Animations’ other animated hit, “Chicken Run,” the overall U.K. picture began clearing.

UIP’s “Wallace” has ridden a wave of family films that have performed worldwide: In the U.K., pic has taken in $45.5 million.

The pic, which took the top spot at the U.K. B.O. its first two weeks, started its run by taking in nearly $5 million in previews on its way to more than $37 million. Strangely, part of “Wallace’s” success might stem from a fire that swept the warehouse of the pic’s animator, Bristol-based Aardman, providing enormous publicity for the pic.

Pic has also passed the healthy bites in the U.K. of both “Shark Tale” and “Madagascar,” which both chomped off about $40 million locally.

In the beginning

Kicking off the Blighty boom this summer was another family pic, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

“Charlie” has taken in $65.2 million for Warner Bros. in the U.K., repping more than 30% of the pic’s overseas biz of $216.3 million.

U.K. B.O. comprises about half the pic’s biz in Europe. Thanks in part to “Charlie” and “Wallace,” Exhibs are now saying they expect as much as $70 million from the next installment of the “Harry Potter” franchise, and at least $60 million from both “King Kong” and “”The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Like “Potter” and “Charlie,” which is set in London, “Narnia’s” Brit bent should attract Blighty auds. Pic, by Disney/Walden, is set to world preem Dec. 7 at London’s Royal Albert Hall as the 2005 royal film performance.

Also helping Blighty’s bottom line has been another homegrown pic, UIP’s “Pride & Prejudice.” The Jane Austen adaptation, starring Keira Knightley, has cumed $24.6 of its $31.3 million foreign take from the U.K. In Germany, a tough territory all year, the pic only took in a paltry $1.8 million.

The Austen role is one that U.K. auds seem to want to see Knightley in. Bookers said that one reason “Domino” did not do as well is because fans see her as an “English rose” and not an edgy action antihero.

One pic that did not strike a chord with U.K. auds, however, has been Roman Polanski’s version of “Oliver Twist.”

(Archie Thomas in London contributed to this report)

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