Crusade begins

'Batman' tries to reverse B.O. trends

Early returns here and overseas for Warner Bros.’ “Batman Begins” suggest the streak of disappointing weekends may be ending. Pic opened Wednesday with $15 million from 3,718 theaters.

Global returns were solid, especially in Mexico, where pic’s $829,698 first-day take was more than 150% ahead of first-day numbers on blockbusters “The Day After Tomorrow” and “I, Robot” last summer.

The frame’s only other wide release is Universal’s “The Perfect Man,” in 2,087 locations. Romantic tale starring Hilary Duff and Heather Locklear is aimed at the teen girls who don’t dig guys in capes. “We chose this date because it looked to be perfect counterprogramming to ‘Batman,’ ” said U distrib chief Nikki Rocco.

After 16 weekends in a row that have been down against their 2004 counterparts, the combo of a strong “Batman” bow with a solid hold by Fox’s “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” which opened last week to $50 million, stands a good chance of lifting total weekend box office above the $139 million mark set last year.

Warners’ exit poll data showing 64% male aud is also likely to be good news for “Smith,” which tilted toward women in its second week.

For a Wednesday bow, the $15 million for “Batman Begins” puts it in the respectable recent company of “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” which started with $13.5 million in 2003, and 2002’s “Men in Black II” ($18.6 million).

“That’s a huge number,” said Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman, “it’s about as high as we could go. We’re going to have a great weekend and a great run.”

But it’s not in the league of other super-sized midweek bows, such as the $40.4 million for “Spider-Man 2” or $34.5 million for “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.”

Fellman, though, said he expected the “Batman” aud to even out gender-wise through the frame since many of the hardcore comics fans (who tend to be guys) were among the opening day crowds.

“That gap will close as we approach the weekend,” he said. “Not only do you have tremendous interest among males, the exits among females were the highest we’ve had on a ‘Batman’ movie.”

Aud was evenly split by age, with half the aud over 25 years old.

Internationally, Warners reported “Batman” grossed $1.9 million on Wednesday from four territories — France, Mexico, the Philippines and Malaysia. Pic is debuting in 71 territories over the frame.

Studio was especially enthused by the Mexican results, but the other territories were solid if not spectacular.

In France, the Bat claimed $839,706 with 111,820 admissions nationwide. Paris admissions totaled 31,543, a figure that exceeded “Day After Tomorrow” by 4%, “Van Helsing” by 1% and “Pearl Harbor” by 6%.

In the Philippines, the opening day of $153,411 ranked as Warner’s fifth biggest ever after the three “Harry Potter” films and “The Matrix Reloaded.”

Malaysia’s opening of $90,095 represented 55% of the market and was 3% above “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and 11% ahead of “Van Helsing.”

Warner also opened 16 other smaller markers such as Brunei, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Luxembourg. “Batman Begins” opened Thursday in Australia and Germany; today’s launches include the U.K., Italy, Spain, Brazil and Russia. Japan opens on Saturday.

Back Stateside, new titles in the limited arena include Focus Features’ Brit pickup “My Summer of Love,” which will start on 17 screens.

Disney is aggressively expanding “Howl’s Moving Castle” this week, moving up to 202 theaters after bowing at 36. That big soph sesh push will put Hayao Miyazaki’s toon on more screens in its second week than his previous pic, “Spirited Away,” ever reached on its leggy run last year.

Among the weekend’s other new entrants, Front Street unspools “The Deal” on eight screens and Sony Pictures Classics bows tyro helmer Chris Terrio’s “Heights” at seven engagements in Gotham and L.A.

Starting solo in Gotham are IFC’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” Picture This’ “The Great Water” and Vitagraph’s “The Talent Given Us.”

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