Foreign moviegoing gets a jumpstart

The summer tentpole season has finally started abroad, as Fox’s “Kingdom of Heaven” showed far more powerful traction offshore, taking in nearly triple the domestic gross.

Foreign takings for Ridley Scott’s Crusades epic as of May 10 topped $63 million in five days in 97 territoiries — right in line with the May 2004 offshore openings for “Van Helsing” and “Troy,” though both films racked up much stronger U.S. openings.

The “Kingdom” launch jump-started foreign moviegoing afterwhat had been a downbeat spring, capped off by the disappointing day-and-date opening during the previous frame for Sony’s “XXX: State of the Union.” Overall German results shot up 147%, Italy jumped 40%, Spain gained 29% and France saw a 20% hike, while the U.K. slid 8% in the wake of the previous frame’s strong opening of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

“Kingdom” dominated as distribs shied away from launching rival product in both the May 6-8 frame and the current May 13-15 weekend. Best results came in Germany with a $6.4 million opening weekend at 842 playdates, representing 32% of the entire U.S. launch.

“It was out of sight — a real blockbuster performance,” a German exhib asserted. “It was a combination of things that turned this film into a huge hit: fans of Ridley Scott and of ‘Gladiator’ wanting to see another action-packed historical epic, the timeliness and renewed interest in the Crusades, and of course Orlando Bloom. And the lousy weather didn’t hurt, either.”

The booker also said concerns over current political conflicts appeared to have no impact on moviegoers. “In the end, most people just want to see a romping adventure about knights in battle, cities under siege and catapults hurling flaming boulders and all that stuff,” he added.

The performance by “Kingdom” was impressive enough that it elicited comparisons with “Gladiator,” “Alexander” and “Troy,” which scored an outsize success last year in overseas markets with $364 million, thanks largely to the star power of Brad Pitt. Consensus emerged that Bloom’s star power isn’t strong enough yet to approach the “Troy” results.

“We are still linked to the actors here in Italy, much more than the director, much more than the story even,” said one Italian exhib.

In Spain, “Kingdom” racked up the biggest bow of 2005 with $4.89 million, 5% ahead of “Alexander” but 28% behind the “Troy” launch. One hopeful Spanish booker said, “Maybe ‘Troy’ had a bigger opening thanks to Brad Pitt, but ‘Kingdom’ may have a better word of mouth.”

In France, where Pathe distribbed, “Kingdom” pocketed a solid $3.6 million at 443 in its debut — a solid performance compared with “Troy,” which took in $5.1 million in a much wider bow with 746 sites. Exhibs also noted that despite as massive PR campaign by Pathe, much of the French press coverage focused on links between the film and current politics — and critics were lukewarm.

“Historically, realistically, psychologically, religiously and ideologically absurd, it’s an average super-production whose real fault is its hero,” wrote French daily Liberation.

In Italy, “Kingdom” took in half the total box office though exhibs asserted the total would have been higher if not for sunny outdoor weather. “At the end of six months of winter no one, despite this strong film, could be persuaded to stay indoors,” said one exhib.

In the U.K., “Kingdom” matched cautious industry expectations as one booker noted it’s the fourth historical epic in a year following “Troy,” “King Arthur” and “Alexander.” “How many times can audiences be expected to go weak at the knees when they see two armies converging on a big landscape?” he asked.

“Kingdom” also had to contend with a solid soph sesh for “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” which dipped a respectable 38%, a strong follow-up on its boffo bow. The 10-day Blighty cume totalled $13.3 million with exhibs attributing continued success to the current popularity of Brit sci-fi and re-runs of the original “Hitchhiker’s” radio show.

“Hitchhiker” also staged an impressive opening in Iceland with $105,000 at five playdates — BVI’s biggest opening ever in that market.

Other holdover biz was mostly middling as exhibs and patrons endured rising anticipation for the May 19 U.K. opening of “Star Wars Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” prepping for festivities such as London’s Leicester Square getting a “Star Wars” makeover.

“XXX: State of the Union,” which opened with $15 million on April 29-May 1, had managed to double that by May 10. UIP’s “The Interpreter” crossed the $50 million mark with the best results coming in the U.K. with $11.5 million, Germany with $6.3 million and Spain with $5.9 million.

“Million Dollar Baby” continued to benefit from its Best Picture Oscar, crossing the $100 million mark and finishing in fifth place in France in its seventh week for a Gallic cume of $19.3 million. “It’s been a very welcome surprise,” said one Paris-based exhib, who noted it has outperformed such American fare as “Lost in Translation.”

Warner’s “Constantine,” near the end of its run, has cumed $149.13 million, including $20.6 million in Japan. BVI’s “The Pacifier” remained a solid player in the family segment with $48.7 million in 28 markets as of May 10.

(Ed Meza in Berlin, Sheri Jennings in Rome, Liza Klaussmann in Paris, Esther de Prado in Madrid and Archie Thomas in London contributed to this report.)

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