Takings plunged 29% in U.K. and France; Italy off 14%

The weather in much of Europe was glacial last week — as was the B.O, with the notable exception of Germany, where “Hitch” almost single-handedly boosted industry-wide grosses by 26%.

Sony reaped the rewards of launching the romantic comedy at last month’s Berlin fest and from topliner Will Smith’s appearances on primetime gameshow “Wanna Bet” and on youth-skewed web ProSieben.

Exhibs in Spain weren’t complaining as biz went up by 7%, thanks to “Hide and Seek” and “Hitch” as well as holdovers “Million Dollar Baby,” “Finding Neverland” and “Downfall.”

Some were surprised the “Hide” thriller starring Robert De Niro and Dakota Fanning was No. 1 by a whisker, drawing especially well in malls but less so in town centers, where quality fare and comedies are more popular.

Takings plunged by 29% in the U.K. and France, and Italy was off by 14% as exhibs in all three territories lamented the lack of strong films to entice folks to brave the elements.

The weekend’s champ, ending “Meet the Fockers’ “ five-week reign, “Hitch” wooed $21 million from debuts in 19 territories and holdovers in six markets, and its cume through March 8 hit $32 million.

The date doctor tale reigned in Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, Poland, Hong Kong and Singapore, plus it showed sturdy legs in its soph session in Taiwan and its third sojourns in Brazil and Mexico.

“Hide and Seek” wasn’t quite as potent as it launched in Belgium and Holland, and it plunged in its second outing in the U.K. but held stoutly in South Korea; it’s found a decent $37 million in 28 territories.

In its first major market tryout, “Boogeyman” took the top spot in the U.K. with figures that would have ranked midtable in a normal, healthy week, and exhibs said the horror pic was 50% below what they’d hoped for.

Ending its tour, “The Grudge” was so-so in Germany. One programmer said topliner Sarah Michelle Gellar is a drawcard while other opined it came out too late as the pic is widely pirated on the Web and no fewer than 10 such genre movies have been released in Germany this year.

The exhib also criticized the decision to remoniker it “The Curse,” with “The Grudge” as a secondary title. Remake of the Japanese pic didn’t work in Asia but has performed admirably in the U.K., Spain and Italy; its cume is $67.6 million.

“Shark Tale” surfaced in Japan, its final stop, fractionally above the bow of “Shrek 2″ (which went on to gross an unexceptional $22.4 million), and distrib Asmik Ace is counting on word of mouth and fans of pop star Shingo Katori (who voices Oscar) to keep the toon afloat until the two-week school vacation starts March 19. DreamWorks pic easily retained the lead in its second voyage in Italy, and its cume topped $182 million.

“Lorelei: The Witch of the Pacific Ocean,” fictional story about a Japanese sub that saved Tokyo from an A-bomb attack near the end of WWII, was the victor in Japan, without setting the long-depressed market on fire.

“Constantine” reigned on debut in Sweden, Greece, Chile and Colombia, maintained momentum in Mexico (still No. 1) and Italy (despite “Blade: Trinity’s” arrival), but plummeted in Australia. Keanu Reeves starrer has collared a tidy $75 million in 33 markets, heading for north of $100 million.

“Million Dollar Baby” saw healthy post-Oscar bounces in a bunch of markets, including the U.K., Spain, Italy, Mexico and Oz, as most distribs added prints. One Spanish booker described the 41% rise as “spectacular” and noted he’d been asking for more copies for weeks. Clint Eastwood’s poignant drama has grossed around $37 million and could surpass $60 million if its emotional pull works in Japan and France.

Benefited from Jamie Foxx’s Oscar, “Ray” rose in France, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, Brazil and Mexico, advancing to $33.3 million and overtaking “Ali” ($30 million) to rank as the highest-grossing African-American biopic internationally. Ray Charles saga has whistled up $5.7 million in two weeks in France, making it the top market, ahead of Germany’s $5.2 million, the U.K.’s $3.7 million and Japan’s $3.3 million.

“Sideways” motored along to $25 million, mostly from holdovers, as Alexander Payne’s road trip opened weakly on eight screens in Japan (it widens to 40 March 19) and on 34 in Russia.

In France, Costa-Gavras pic “The Ax,” a black comedy starring Jose Garcia and Karin Viard about a frustrated, laid-off employee who decides to kill his competitors for a new job, got glowing reviews and appreciative auds.

As Americans weren’t aroused by “Kinsey,” it’s no surprise the Liam Neeson/Laura Linney starrer was all but ignored last week in the U.K. and Spain. “Kinsey who?,” the Spaniards may well have asked, as one exhib said the pic should have been released much earlier, along with other Academy Awards candidates.

Norma Nebot in Madrid, Liza Klaussmann in Paris, Christian Koehl in Cologne, Archie Thomas in London and Sheri Jennings in Rome contributed to this report.

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