‘Sith’ wages war against o’seas competish

Foreign cume reaches $263 million

The final installment of the “Star Wars” saga continues to utterly dominate offshore moviegoing — mostly to the exclusion of everything else.

Fox Intl.’s “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” grossed a robust $61.5 million at 10,586 screens in 105 territories during its second Friday-Sunday frame, off 54% from its record-setting opening Friday-Sunday. As of May 31 — two weeks after “Sith” began its first screenings in Belgium, France and Switzerland — foreign cume reached a beefy $263 million, placing it among the top 50 all-time offshore grossers.

With domestic gross topping $275 million on the same day, combined worldwide box office for “Sith” was nearing $540 million — above the final worldwide take of $533 million from “The Empire Strikes Back” and within striking distance of “Return of the Jedi” at $573 million. “Sith” likely will eclipse “Attack of the Clones” ($648 million) in another week but may not match the original “Star Wars” at $798 million and is unlikely to come near “The Phantom Menace” at $922 million.

The latest frame saw declines in key European markets due to high temperatures and the comparison with the previous massive opening weekend for “Sith.” Germany slid 55% followed by France with 50%, the U.K. with 49%, Italy with 42% and Spain with 28%.

Blighty exhibitors blamed the weather for the soph sesh decline and remain bullish, dubbing “Sith” superior to “Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” And French exhibitors pin the decline on a combo of sunshine, the super-charged opening numbers for “Sith” and the distraction of French Open tennis.

“Sith” has headed into June with a dearth of direct blockbuster competition in many foreign markets until Warner’s June 17 day-and-date launch of “Batman Begins.” One Spanish booker frets over the lack of rival tentpoles until then, asserting, “A luxury restaurant can’t make money by always offering the same chef’s choice.”

So the foreign success of “Sith” has carried a price as distribs shied away from offering rival product — unlike in the domestic market, where the “Sith” soph sesh topped $70 million while the openings of “Madagascar” and “The Longest Yard” took in around $60 million apiece.

By contrast, the only other significant offshore business during the entire month of May has come from Fox’s “Kingdom of Heaven” with about $145 million on May 31, making up for its lackluster domestic perf of $45 million. “Kingdom’s” fourth weekend took in a respectable $8 million internationally, or 13% of “Sith’s” take.

The frame’s overall foreign business didn’t come close to matching the same period of 2004, when “The Day After Tomorrow” opened with $85 million and the soph sesh of “Troy” generated $40 million. Key European markets also saw abnormally warm weather cut into moviegoing during the frame.

“With the incredibly hot temperatures, it’s quite extraordinary that ‘Episode III’ got as many people as it did,” one German exhib notes optimistically. “The excitement surrounding the film has passed, but there is still great interest and now that the temperature has cooled down, we expect bigger crowds.”

Distribs launched a few counterprogramming forays against “Sith,” usually with unimpressive results, such as the German debut of “Monster-in-Law,” which finished second with 11% of the “Sith” gross. “‘Monster-in-Law’ was a nice alternative, but it had no chance of really competing,” one Teuton booker observes.

“Monster-in-Law” opened day-and-date in the U.K. and has cumed nearly $8 million after three weeks.

In Spain, the fourth weekend of “Kingdom of Heaven” finished a distant second to “Sith” with 22% of its gross, followed by three Spanish-language pics. Argentine comedy “It’s Not You, It’s Me” performed well in fifth despite launching with only 74 prints.

Italy remained one of the few markets where “Sith” has underperformed in comparison with other markets, with takings less than half the Spanish level despite a similar release pattern. Bookers said the middling results stemmed from the sunny weather and a lack of new “Star Wars” fans.

“The public that would go see a ‘Star Wars’ film in Italy is well-defined,” one booker says. “It hasn’t increased its fan base.”

Italian exhibs also were disappointed that moviegoers didn’t spark to openings of local entry “Quo Vadis” or “Kung Fu Hustle.” “There are a lack of important films with important cast members that grab audiences,” another Italo booker asserts.

Competition was so limited during the Friday-Sunday period that Warner’s “House of Wax” wound up being the third-best offshore performer with $4.6 million at 1,300 playdates in 25 countries, doubling its cume to more than $9 million. “Wax” generated its best takings in the U.K., where its launch was neck-and-neck with the opening of “The Pacifier” for second — both with 14% of “Sith.”

“Wax” didn’t come close to the $1 million mark in France, despite widespread recognition of star Paris Hilton via airings of “The Simple Life” on Canal Plus. But local hit “Brice de Nice” remained solid with eighth-week grosses down only 31%.

UIP’s “Madagascar” beat “Sith” in two markets where it set records for animated openings — in Singapore with $613,000 at 26 sites and in Malaysia with $314,000 at 39. “Madagascar” came in second in the Philippines with $283,000 at 66, 20% behind “Shrek 2.”

UIP saw only moderate biz in Australia from the launch of “Coach Carter” with $744,000 in its first week. Pic, which hit $67 million Stateside, has generated its best offshore perf in the U.K. with $3 million.

Japan remains the one market without “Sith”: It arrives there July 9. “Million Dollar Baby” opened in second in Japan to the fourth frame of local hit “Negotiator Mashita Masayoshi”; “Baby” now has cumed $107 million overseas.

UIP’s “The Interpreter” crossed the $64 million mark overseas, with the U.K. its best market at $13.4 million.

(Archie Thomas in London, Liza Klaussmann in Paris, Sheri Jennings in Rome, Ed Meza in Berlin and Esther de Prado in Madrid contributed to this report.)

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