D'Works toon nabs nifty Italo numbers

Underscoring the strong foreign appetite for family fare, “Madagascar” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” dominated the international box office during a typically mild end-of-summer Sept. 2-4 weekend.

Thanks largely to an impressive Italian debut, UIP’s “Madagascar” led with $12.5 million in 47 territories, while Warner’s “Charlie” took in $10.1 million in 45 markets.

Both pics have been reliable contributors during the second half of the summer, and maintained overall offshore biz at healthy levels.

“Madagascar” has managed to attract audiences from all demographics, while “Charlie” has generated fairly solid biz throughout its run, despite its offbeat themes.

As of Sept. 5, “Madagascar” had grossed $276 million overseas, led by $41 million in Germany and $39.6 million in the United Kingdom. It had turned in respectable performances in every major market, with $22.1 million in France, $19.4 million in Australia, $18.2 million in Mexico, $16.3 million in Spain and $11.6 million in Brazil.

Italy, representing the final major market for the CGI toon, racked up $9.2 million in its first five days. The $6.1 million Friday-Sunday take was six times bigger than the previous winner, “Herbie: Fully Loaded” and repped 70% of the national B.O.

“This film is like food for the starving,” one exhibitor in Southern Italy said of “Madagascar.” “As soon as it was released the audiences realized there was something going on at the movies, and they all wanted to see it.”

It was also the second biggest September release in the Italo market since “Batman Returns” launched 13 years ago.

“‘Madagascar’ is appealing to all audiences, not just kids,” one booker asserts. “We are selling out weeknights, and even lateshows, so we know it isn’t just a family picture, but one that attracts everyone.”

For Italian exhibitors, the “Madagascar” performance was bittersweet, since it underscored their longstanding complaints about lengthy waits for high-profile U.S. pics to arrive.

“All summer we suffered without any films after ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘War of the Worlds,’ ” one groused. “This went on for far too long.”

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” used a solid Australian launch of $5.6 million in its first five days to boost its foreign total to $142 million. Oz prospects seem solid given the superb perf in the United Kingdom, where “Charlie” has racked up $61.5 million since debuting on July 29.

French auds have also sparked to “Charlie” with $23.9 million, while results elsewhere have been decent, given the quirky themes of the Tim Burton-Johnny Depp vehicle. Spain has been tasty with a $7.3 million cume, and Mexico has chipped in with $6.3 million.

Surprisingly, Germany delivered so-so results for “Charlie,” with $4.85 million — slightly below the $4.88 million grossed in Brazil.

Sony’s “Bewitched” flew to $7.1 million in 39 markets, raising the foreign cume to more than $32 million, as the Nicole Kidman comedy continued to deliver adequate rather than socko results. Best performance came in Spain, with a $1.5 million opening.

“Nicole Kidman is, or should always be, a plus for a movie, and in this movie she hasn’t been that,” said one Spanish booker, who noted that “Bewitched” took in the same amount as the third frame of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” three weeks ago.

European biz was dented considerably by hot weather, particularly in the U.K., where moviegoing was off 6% from the previous weekend and down 3% on the same weekend last year. Blighty exhibs asserted that “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” which opened in the top spot with $3.2 million at 394, could have gone past $4 million had the weather been more in its favor.

Though “Virgin” star Steve Carell is not a well-known name in the U.K., the pic benefited from good Stateside buzz and some strong reviews. Bookers report solid word of mouth and predict no more than a 30% soph drop-off, with an impressive $10 million final cume.

Nick Love’s third feature “The Business” managed a lukewarm fifth-place finish in its opening, with $978,594 (including $123,382 in previews). Exhibs attribute “The Business’ ” unspectacular opening to poor marketing materials and competition with a televised soccer match, taking away the core audience from the gangster movie.

“Pride and Prejudice” premiered in London on Sept. 5, and received a healthy dose of coverage, making exhibs bullish about the prospects for the Sept. 16 opening. But BVI’s “Cinderella Man” previews were weak, taking in about $170,000 from 284 sites.

Warner’s “The Island” continued to rack up decent overseas grosses, led by nearly $21 million in South Korea, $12.1 million in Japan, $9.1 million in France, $8.8 million in the U.K. and $8.7 million in Spain. Its foreign cume hit $112 million as of Sept. 6 — three times above the mild $35.7 million domestic take.

But “Dukes of Hazzard” remained mostly a non-player in foreign territories, with a feeble $4.75 million cume in a dozen markets after two weeks. In Italy, “Dukes” grossed a meek $279,000 in a smallish opening of 106 playdates.

“Movies based on American TV series have not been successful here,” one booker noted. “There just doesn’t seem to be much audience for such an American-type product.”

(Sheri Jennings in Rome, Archie Thomas in London and Esther De Prado in Madrid contributed to this report.)

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