Warner Bros. sci-fier holds on in sluggish frame

In a sure sign that summer is ending, international box office cooled off with mild results across the board as Michael Bay’s “The Island” topped offshore grosses for the third week in a row.

With new pics generating only moderate returns, the Ewan McGregor-Scarlett Johansson sci-fier easily led the Aug. 26-28 weekend with $9.7 million in 48 markets for Warner Bros. In a reflection of the market’s sluggishness, it was the first frame since late April — when “The Pacifier” edged “The Interpreter” to lead with $9.1 million — in which the top film failed to crack the $10 million mark.

In key European markets, the combo of fine weather and lack of traction by new pics led to typically slow results. Overall Gallic box office dropped 18% from the previous weekend, while Germany was off 16%, Spain slid 21% and the U.K. edged down 2%.

Italy was the exception, surging 60% thanks to the appearance of new films — “The Island” and “Herbie: Fully Loaded” – after a lengthy drought of fresh product. “Herbie” won by a razor-thin margin but the new duo each took in more than twice the amount that had won the previous weekend, when “The Amityville Horror” grossed a lukewarm $554,776 in its launch.

Though somewhat sickly in its domestic release for DreamWorks with under $36 million, “The Island” has racked up relatively robust returns offshore and cumed $101.8 million for Warner Bros. as of Aug. 28. Pic’s the latest big-budget actioner that’s found solid footing overseas after stumbling in Stateside runs, following the path of historical epics “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Alexander” and “King Arthur.”

Best perf for “The Island” has come from South Korea, with cume near $21 million, followed by $11.3 million in Japan, $8.1 million in Spain, $7.8 million in the U.K., $7.6 million in Germany and $6.7 million in France.

Top takings during the most recent frame came from France, where its soph sesh led with $2.3 million despite dropping 42% from its opening.

In Germany, where “The Island” finished seventh in its fourth weekend, exhibs expressed surprise at the Teuton cume being nearly $1 million better than “Batman Begins.”

” ‘The Island’ hasn’t exactly done excellent business, but German viewers appear to have taken more interest in it than American moviegoers,” one booker opined. “Cloning is a very current topic and that in itself has generated attention, but so have the spectacular action sequences, not to mention a very strong cast.”

Warner’s quirky family entry “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” finished second to “The Island” for the third consecutive frame with $7.7 million in 39 markets. Foreign cume’s reached nearly $127 million as of Aug. 28; worldwide total for the Johnny Depp starrer’s gone past $324 million.

Nearly half of the offshore takings for “Charlie” have come from the U.K., where it continued to defy gravity after more than a month in theaters. Despite the hot weather, the pic slipped just 34% in its fifth frame for a Blighty cume of almost $60 million with exhibs citing the combo of strong word of mouth and the lack of serious competition.

“There was a big question mark over whether the film would prove too quirky for mainstream audiences, but it has answered its critics emphatically,” one booker asserted.

Others cite the enduring popularity of author Roald Dahl’s books and the strong U.K. feel to pic as factors in catapulting biz skyward.

French audiences have also sparked to “Charlie,” which has cumed $23 million seven weeks with exhibs citing solid crossover appeal among adults.

Another family pic, BVI’s “Herbie,” came in third with $5.4 million during the frame. The Lindsay Lohan vehicle has cumed nearly $59 million overseas and looks likely to surpass the $64 million Stateside total.

With summer fare racking up a generally mixed performance, bookers have been grousing over the occasionally lengthy waits for high-profile pics. In Spain, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” cumed a solid $10.3 million in its first two weeks — over two months after the U.S. launch.

“Such a big delay in a blockbuster bow is absolutely incomprehensible especially considering concerns about piracy,” one Spanish exhib lamented. “It is months since I first saw ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ for sale in street stalls.”

One of the summer’s top performers, UIP’s “Madagascar,” continued to mint moolah from the kids-and-parents sector with $3.9 million during the weekend to push foreign cume past $276 million. In Italy, a one-day preview generated $1.2 million, leading exhibs to grouse over the market’s absence of high-profile pics in recent weeks.

Warner’s saw decidedly mixed results from its foreign launch of “Dukes of Hazzard” with $4.75 million — most of that in the U.K. Despite some scathing reviews, “Hazzard” met cautious expectations in Blighty, partly due to exposure from the splashy London preem attended by pic’s Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson and Seann William Scott, and partly from the TV series’ cult following.

In France, though, “Hazzard” barely cracked the top 10 with just over $600,000. Exhibs noted the franchise and actors are not especially well known, resulting in Warner’s releasing the film on a small 243 screens to test the waters.

UIP’s “The Skeleton Key” continued to scare up moderate results with foreign cume going past $22 million. Its German soph sesh stayed in first place but also won the dubious honor of being the territory’s weakest number one pic this year.

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

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