'Batman' follows behind; both pix break $100 mil barrier

UIP’s Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg tentpole “War of the Worlds” was able to give a much-needed goose to foreign box office numbers in its impressive opening frame, taking in more than $102.5 million between its Wednesday bow and the Sunday end of the frame, with a seven-day cume of $121 million.

Pic made its mark by managing to overcome any audience burnout from an exhaustive worldwide PR blitz and Cruise’s becoming a tabloid fixture for any offscreen exploits, which pundits said could create backlash.

While “War” provided a lift to the international sector, exhibs are now hoping the pic can spread its wings further just as the Fox-distribbed “Fantastic Four” comes along to possibly turn up the heat.

Alien invasion pic dominated world B.O. scene, handily breaking the $100 million barrier from 4,000 playdates in 78 countries, even before opening during the July 8-10 weekend in France, South Korea and Belgium.

Following behind “War” was Warner Bros.’ “Batman Begins,” which passed the $100 million mark, moving to more than from 86 countries. Warners said its Batpic had 8,000 prints in play. Film, which has struggled in some territories, such as Germany, dropped about 43% from its previous frame overall.

Rounding out the top three was UIP’s toon pic “Madagascar,” which had taken in $84.3 million as of July 6.

Meantime, Fox’s “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” continued its winning ways. Spy pic came in No. 4 over the weekend frame and broke the $100 million mark, ultimately moving to $112 million by July 6, including the non-Fox territories of France, Germany and Japan.

Fox’s latest “Star Wars” sequel continued to make good since its mid-May rollout, having taken in nearly $380 million internationally as of July 6. Fox said pic’s preview take in Japan, a final territory that should prove profitable, was $7.5 million.

On the piracy watch, UIP — which ramped up security measures to keep the f/x-heavy “War” out of pirates’ hands — said pic’s perf was not hurt by illegal copies being available. However, distrib added there were reports of pirated copies in Mexico and Russia.

One concern for foreign B.O. watchers last week was the decline in ticket sales in the U.K. verall B.O. there is down 1% from last year, with a collective cume of $650.2 million. EDI figures show territory stands 1% down year-on-year going into the final two quarters. However, “War’s” opening did exceed U.K. industry expectations.

It took in $15.2 millionfrom 507 locations with a screen average of $29,958. Boffo opening is the biggest in the territory for Spielberg, Cruise and Paramount. Only other UIP releases to outperform “Worlds” in the U.K. have been “Shrek 2″ and “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.”

In the U.K., “War” faced competish from the widely televised Live 8 benefit concerts and Wimbledon finals. Monday and Tuesday biz was very healthy, suggesting word of mouth is positive.

U.K. exhibs were relieved “War” delivered, after the Brit press went after Cruise’s offscreen antics with abandon. Exhibs expect “War” and UIP’s “Madagascar” to buoy July. Month gets another boost when “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” bows July 29.

“Smith” and “Batman” have been solid if unspectacular on U.K. soil. “Batman” held up admirably against “Worlds,” dipped 53% in its third weekend and has now scored more than $21 million in the territory. Exhibs are satisfied given the pic’s opening was badly hit by the hot weather.

Smallest drop-off in the top 15 was plucky Argentine pic “Bombon: El perro,” which slid just 16% in its third weekend. Exhibs attribute niche success to “fact that it is everything Hollywood isn’t.”

Tradsters in the U.K. were also eager to point out that there are four Bollywood pics — “Parineeta,” “Paheli,” “Sarkar” and “Yakeen” — in the U.K. top 15 for the first time ever.

In Germany, exhibs agreed “War” stood out in almost reaching the expected 1 million viewers on its first weekend.

Even without reviews, which UIP embargoed, the pic received abundant upfront press coverage, boosted by Cruise’s visit for premieres.

In Italy, “War” bounced B.O. a whopping 87% over the previous frame. Pic marked the second-biggest opening day ever there, following “The Matrix Reloaded” and beat out openings of both “Minority Report” and “Mission Impossible.”

According to Cinetel in Italy, “War” earned $5.3 million in its five-day opening bow, and UIP estimated that total would wind up as high as $6 million. “Batman,” by comparison, earned less than half a million, and “Sin City” registered little more than $75,000 in its fifth week of release.

Nonetheless, “This is the first time that we have had full theaters on Saturday after many months,” enthused one Italo exhib.

In Spain, B.O. shot up 22%, thanks to the bow of three blockbusters in three weeks. Numbers were above-average, but hardly Olympian heights: Frame was the ninth-biggest weekend B.O. in 2005.

“War” bested Cruise/Spielberg effort “Minority Report,” with $7.7 over its first four daysand became the second-biggest opening of 2005 in Spain after the most recent “Star Wars.”

In other Spanish biz, bookers were happy about how “Madagascar” is holding up. It has cumed $10.5 million in three weeks ($1.5 last weekend) and stays second in the top 10.

Ranking third and cuming, $6.3 million “Batman Begins” is a bit below exhibs’ estimates in Spain as well.

In Asia, South Korea continued a love affair with “Smith,” taking in $1.9 million in its third weekend there, which was Fox’s biggest third weekend of all time in that territory.

Looking ahead, New Line’s “The Wedding Crashers” world preemed in London July 4 to rapturous applause, and exhibs are looking at a cume of around $20 million when it opens wide on July 15.

Also “Fantastic Four’s” release and “Star Wars’ ” Japan bow could prove potent.

(Variety correspondents contributed to this report.)

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