Overall biz falls in key markets during the June 10-12 frame

The arrival of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie via “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” helped “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” provide some healthy business at the foreign box office amid an otherwise laggardly early summer.

Exhibitors are looking longingly toward the day-and-date arrivals of “Batman Begins,” which started June 15, and “War of the Worlds” on June 29 to push moviegoing into high gear.

Overall business — which was already at moderate levels — fell in key markets during the June 10-12 time period with France falling 5%, Italy off 8% and the U.K. and Spain both sliding 12%.

Spanish biz totaled only $5.6 million to one of the worst weekends of the year, provoking one booker to say, “We can only keep our fingers crossed for ‘Batman’ to begin.”

The overall offshore box- office performances have been lukewarm for the past several seshes compared with the year-ago period, when “Troy,” “Day After Tomorrow” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” all generated blockbuster business. Instead, distribs decided to cede the market in May and early June to “Sith,” which had grossed $342 million offshore as of June 14, and “Kingdom of Heaven,” which has cumed $153 million offshore.

Fortunately for exhibitors in 42 markets, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” delivered better-than-expected numbers over the weekend as it dominated the fourth frame of “Sith.” The “Smith” cume hit $42.5 million as of June 14, led by an impressive start in the U.K. that saw “Smith” more than double “Sith.”

Blighty exhibitors say the pic clicked due to moviegoers’ perception that “Smith” represented an all-round entertainment package combining star power plus action. Bookers also thought that the worldwide media frenzy over the off-screen relationship between the stars hasn’t damaged the pic’s prospects.

“Smith” performed exceptionally for Fox Intl. in Mexico, Brazil and Australia and in a variety of Asian markets such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore. It also generated impressive numbers in non-Fox territories for Summit, including $620,000 in Switzerland and $565,000 in the United Arab Emirates.

The solid numbers for “Smith” also serve to underscore Pitt’s star power overseas. His previous two pics — “Troy” and “Ocean’s Twelve” — grossed a combined $630 million in foreign markets, well above their domestic combined total of $260 million.

“Smith” won’t open in Spain, Germany, Holland, China or France until July; Italy and Japan won’t see it until the first weekend in December.

“Sith” still has some gas in the tank. Combined worldwide grosses had hit $677 million on June 14, just shy of “Forrest Gump” for 19th place on the all-time list. “Sith” led in its fourth frame in Germany and France, where it now ranks 31st on the all-time list, just behind “Dead Poets Society” and the first two “Lord of the Rings.”

“Sith” took a major hit in the U.K. but few are grumbling about its overall performance, which should wind up well over $70 million. As of June 12, it was already the 22nd highest grosser of all time in the territory.

But “Sith” continued to tank in Italy, where its cume is a mere $435,000 above “Kingdom of Heaven.” Exhibs believe the disappointing performance reflects the perception among the Italo public that there are too many similar films.

BVI’s counter-programming strategy for “Sin City” saw mixed results. In the U.K., the soph sesh of the Robert Rodriguez noir-actioner fell sharply following a respectable launch as exhibitors note that word of mouth was strongly divided into either “love” or “hate.”

French patrons offered better second-frame support for “Sin.” And in Italy, “Sin” won the top spot but bookers expressed only mild enthusiasm amidst a generally downbeat market.

“Madagascar,” which has been a solid performer Stateside, had racked up close to $12 million from eight mid-level markets for UIP as of June 14 with most of that coming from Russia with $6.06 million, followed by Malaysia with $1.15 million and the Philippines with $886,000.

In Spain, bookers have expressed concern over the pirated DVDs of “Madagascar” being sold before the toon opens. “We can see it losing admissions already and we feel really powerless,” one notes.

“Sahara,” which has taken in nearly $9 million in the U.K., saw decent soph sesh results in Germany, but a limp second frame in France. One French booker notes the performance wasn’t surprising since expectations for the actioner were minimal with “Sith” in the market.

Sturdy French performer “Brice de Nice” remained in the top 10 in its 10th week. While the surfing comedy still has some ways to go to approach the runaway success of local hit “Amelie,” which sold more than 9 million tickets, “Brice” has topped 4 million tickets sold and is at No. 17 on the all-time list of French pics in Gaul.

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

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