Exhibs hope ‘Harry’ can rescue hairy year

WB pic continued to be tops over Dec. 2-4 frame

The world’s just wild about “Harry.”

And international exhibs are hoping that Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” can breathe fresh air into what’s been a mostly dismal year at the box office.

Fourth pic in the Warner Bros. franchise continued to be tops at the box office over the Dec. 2-4 frame, with little in the young sorcerer’s way to keep him from gripping auds in his spell.

Pic will get some heated competish however, when Buena Vista Intl.’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” vies for the same auds in 13 markets. Also around the corner is UIP’s 800-lb. gorilla, “King Kong,” which is shaping up to be a behemoth based on solid U.S. reviews and big-time buzz.

“Narnia” will likely give “Harry” a run for his money in the U.K. — the land that spawned both of those pics’ lit properties. “Harry” has taken in $64 million in Blighty, including an $8.4 million haul in its third frame.

Pic has passed the $332.8 million mark overseas, and $562 million worldwide, and now has its sights set on surpassing the last “Potter” pic, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

Staking out new territories as part of a staggered rollout, “Harry” easily conquered France in its opening frame there, goosing B.O. by 84% overall as compared with the previous frame.

“Harry” had the fourth best bow ever on French turf, pocketing $19.7 million in its first week.

That was also the best bow of any of the “Potter” pics in Gaul,” where “Goblet” bowed on 950 screens with a juicy per- screen average of $20,743.

Gallic exhibs predicted admissions of 2.5 million, and the pic surpassed those hopes, bringing in 3 million paying customers.

“I think one reason the film has done better than the others is that audiences are truly starving for good product,” said one Paris-based exhib. “It’s been a pretty dry season, and with all the hype, people probably put a lot of their hopes in this film.”

Other pics in France actually managed to fare well despite “Potter’s” promising run, as the magician is pulling biz along with him. For example, local entry “Palais Royal” saw its haul drop 44% in its soph sesh, but the pic still managed to take home $3.3 million in its second week.

Down Under was another boffo piece of real estate for “Harry,” where the pic eked past “Azkaban’s” opening, and was up 39% on opening day as compared to that pic.

In China, “Harry” is set to become the territory’s biggest hit of 2005 after reaping more than $9.8 million in three weeks of release. That tally bodes well for U.S. pics penetrating an emerging territory with so many eyeballs at stake.

China’s other two Hollywood hits on the year, both from Fox — the last in the “Star Wars” franchise and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” — earned $9.3 million and $ 7.6 million respectively since June bows.

In South Korea, “Potter” has cumed $6.4 million, and Japan has added $30.5 million.

In turf where “Harry” was held over, pic’s drops brought total B.O. takes back down to Earth.

In Germany, total biz slipped 19% from the previous frame. (“Harry” has earned $44.6 million to date there.)

Counter-programming against “Harry” in Germany was Sony’s “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” which remained solidly in second place and has made an impression on Teutonic auds.

Italo auds lost interest in “Harry” to the tune of a 50% dip in ticket sales. That toll resulted in an overall 20% drop from last weekend’s lofty numbers.

But exhibs remained buoyed. “‘Potter’ will pick up again over Christmas,” said one exhib who projects the pic would earn between 25-30 million euros in Italy.

Italy was one territory that had a bit more happening than just “Harry.” Fox’s Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie starrer “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” finally made its way to the boot, opening in second position. Disney’s animated pic “Chicken Little” scratched third place.

Italian bookers said that frequently getting primo pics like “Smith” last in line can make them seem like them damaged goods.

“We can’t always be the last to get certain films,” said one. “Audiences have heard about it everywhere and just lose interest.”

In Spain, B.O. fell 19%, which was considered a soft drop there after the previous weekend’s highs for the year.

Though “Harry” continued to top the Spanish chart, raking in more than $13.4 million in 10 days, bookers there are skeptical the pic can play through Christmas.

“A fall of around 30% would have been acceptable,” said one booker. “However, a drop of 45% doesn’t come as a surprise as the pic had the largest print-run of 2005. That means that despite a great opening, the pic is very likely to drop badly over the second weekend, not to mention on the weekdays.”

In Spain, “Chicken Little” ranked No 2, making $1.2 million over its third frame and setting its sights on kids younger than the “Harry” heads.

“Saw 2” was the biggest bow of the weekend in Spain, ranking third and proving that some horror pics can still scare up biz abroad.

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