'Ocean's' sinks to the second spot

It took almost two months but Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” finally won an international box office title, edging “Ocean’s Twelve” by about $1 million to take the Jan. 7-9 frame with $18.7 million at 3,000 playdates in 35 territories.

Initial estimates for the moderate post-holiday session placed the durable “Ocean’s” — which crossed the $140 million offshore mark as of Jan. 12 from 55 countries — slightly ahead but socko Spanish takings and respectable openings in France and the U.K. lifted “Alexander” to victory.

“The Incredibles,” which has hit $315 million offshore, finished a close third with $16.7 million from 6,981 screens in 58 territories, followed by “National Treasure” with $15.3 million. The BVI duo’s cumed $323.1 million and $108.7 million, respectively.

The quartet’s provided most of the positives thus far in 2005 though the overall biz is stumbling a bit out of the gate in comparison to the past three years when “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy dominated. In the same frame of 2004, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” led with $35.3 million and had cumed $454 million in less than four weeks; “The Last Samurai” was a close second with $32.2 million.

U.K. biz was up 37% from the previous frame but off 19% from the same weekend of 2004; Gallic biz fell 28% and Italo takings were down 26%, despite solid openings by an odd pair — sturdy comedy “Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason” and “The Grudge.”

The foreign takings for “Alexander” are a bit of a tonic to expectations since they are dwarfing the domestic perf. Most notably, foreign cume for the Oliver Stone epic hit nearly $69 million as of Jan. 10, or more than double its disappointing Stateside take of $34.1 million.

Spain saw “Alexander” take advantage of a Wednesday-Sunday launch, soldiering to $7.26 million at 396 playdates for the fourth best opening ever, trailing only “Shrek 2,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “The Matrix: Reloaded.”

Bookers pointed to the Jan. 5 opening, the day before the Epiphany holiday; the lack of major U.S. titles in recent weeks and Stone coming to Spain to tubthump the film with the actors, a somewhat uncommon occurrence. Exhibs also noted that “Alexander” tapped into an anti-Americanism rampant among Spain’s youth since Stone is admired as an icon of American anti-establishment.

“Alexander” also led in France but its perf wasn’t quite as mighty with $3.5 million at 500 playdates in its first weekend. Pic received fairly poor reviews from Gallic crix; first-week ticket sales totaled 555,074 compared with 813,201 for the first week of “Troy.”

German performance of “Alexander” stayed steady with only a 15% decline in its third frame for a cume of $8.4 million. “Despite all the negative press, people are still fascinated by the story of Alexander,” one Teuton exhib asserted. “A lot of viewers had lot expectations going in and are finding that the film is not as bad as many of its critics have said.”

“Alexander” has also proven to be a respectable draw in Russia with an $8 million cume, South Korea ($6.9 million in two weeks), Portugal ($1.35 million), Denmark ($1.6 million), Turkey ($1.88 million) and Norway ($1.17 million)

In the U.K., “Alexander” opened with a respectable $2.24 million with its best perf coming from Irish cinemas, thanks to the appeal of Colin Farrell. The epic narrowly lost the second spot in Blighty to “The Aviator” while “White Noise” easily won, thanks to powerful TV spots plus a strong trailer.

As awards season heats up, Brit exhibs expect the Howard Hughes biopic to show strong legs once BAFTA nominations are announced on Jan. 17.

“Ocean’s Twelve” remained a solid holdover player in major markets with cumes from the France ($21.6 million), Germany ($19.8 million), Italy ($14.1 million) and Spain ($12.1 million). Its South Korean debut narrowly lost to “Shark Tale,” which led with $2.4 million; it’s still not due in the U.K. until Feb. 4.

Italian audiences sparked to “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” the comedy’s last major territory as it nears a cume of $190 million, as bookers cited strong per-screen averages as a likely signal the sequel will show decent legs. One exhib said it’s not a major problem for releases to hit Italy at the tail end as long as it’s not “excessive” in respect to other European releases, as was the case with the mid-December opening for “Shrek 2.”

In contrast, Italy hosted “Closer” well before other markets and gave it decent support with $6.8 million in five weeks. One Roman exhib noted that the Julia Roberts drama didn’t take a significant tumble until over a month in theaters.

In France, local entry “Me and My Sister” has held well, losing only 19% in its third week. Pic, the first feature from Gallic helmer Alexandra Leclere, owes some of its success to stars Isabelle Huppert and Catherine Frot (“7 Years of Marriage,” “Chouchou”) along with strong reviews from crix.

French patrons also showed strong support for “Downfall,” which debuted in fifth with a solid $8,970 per screen. Exhibs and distribs were surprised and pleased at the strong perf of the German film portraying Hitler’s decline and noted the ongoing fascination in France over the Third Reich should never be underestimated.

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

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