'Baby' still feels the love of Oscar

The Easter vacation didn’t deliver the big B.O. kick exhibs were hoping for in most of Europe, apart from a modest bump in Spain and a healthy rise in Italy, as “Robots” and “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous” generally didn’t excite cinemagoers.

However “Million Dollar Baby” continued to bask in the Oscar glow as it conquered France, opened strongly in arthouses — but less so in mainstream venues — in Germany and, remarkably, jumped back to second spot in its eighth outing in Spain. “It got tons of press following the Oscars, but most people have short memories and it’s not exactly an easy picture,” one German booker noted. Clint Eastwood’s gritty drama has minted more than $40 million abroad since winning four trophies, boosting its cume to $66 million. Still to bow in Japan and several smaller markets, the Hilary Swank starrer has a shot at hitting $100 million; just a few weeks ago, $80 million seemed more likely.

Despite “Baby’s” muscular entry, receipts in France dropped by 30%, with the prior frame having been fueled by the annual three-day half-price tix promo. The U.K. was off by 10% and, while Germany rose fractionally, exhibs said biz is still blah. Takings in Italy went up by 26% and Spain gained 14%.

The champ overseas for the fourth weekend in a row, “Hitch” wooed $18.4 million from 5,000 prints in 55 markets, driven by lusty bows in New Zealand, Greece and Venezuela, its soph session in France, buoyant third week wide in Blighty and fourth in Germany: It was No. 1 again in the latter two. The cume through March 29 raced to $133.6 million, and with Japan to come, is heading for north of $150 million.

“Robots” rang up $16.8 million from debuts in 12 markets and holdovers in 29, playing on nearly 6,000 screens. Its cume topped $54 million, and with Japan, France, South Korea, Taiwan and China on the horizon, Fox is confident it will get to $150 million. Kidpic voiced by Robin Williams, Ewan McGregor and Halle Berry bowed at No. 1 in Australia (4% below “Ice Age”) and Argentina, but came in second in Belgium and Holland, and third in Italy. Italo exhibs were looking for the ‘bots to open twice as big, and blamed the shortfall on the plethora of family films including rookie “Racing Stripes” and holdovers “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” “Shark Tale” and “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie.”

Fox/Blue Sky Studios toon was the pacesetter again in its second turn in Spain, but didn’t get Easter-egged-on in the U.K., Germany or Brazil. In the U.K., it lost some auds to “Valiant,” a locally-produced CGI animated pic about a heroic homing pigeon in WWII, which garnered warm reviews, especially for the voice talent of Ricky Gervais (“The Office”).

“Armed and Not So Fabulous” might be a more appropriate moniker for “Congeniality 2″ as it opened at No. 1 in Taiwan and Switzerland, but in second or third spots elsewhere. The sequel was 8% below the original in the U.K., 13% shy in Australia, 4% down in Holland and 36% less in Germany. One Teutonic exhib said the pic suffered from competition with other light-hearted fare such as “Hitch” and the resilient “Meet the Fockers,” but he expects it will have long legs thanks to topliner Sandra Bullock’s popularity and her German ancestry. In Spain, one booker sniffed, “It’s a silly picture far below the level of the golden years of Sandra Bullock.”

In the U.K., Woody Allen aficionados embraced “Melinda and Melinda,” helped by the fact it lensed in London, and upscale auds ensured a healthy per-screen average for “Maria Full of Grace.”

“The Ring Two” was fairly potent in its bows in Australia (102% bigger than the original) and Brazil (No. 1, 74% ahead). The Naomi Watts starrer held well enough to retain the lead in Mexico.

“National Treasure” triumphed again in its second sojourns in Japan and China; its cume reached $161.5 million.

“The Aviator” barely got off the ground in Japan, its final major market, appealing only to mature folks — missing Leonardo DiCaprio’s legion of young femme admirers; its cume surpassed $102 million.

“Be Cool” had a tepid response in France, where exhibs labeled it an uninteresting mix of “Pulp Fiction” and “Get Shorty,” the latter of which wasn’t popular there.

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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