Warm weather curtails biz

Sony’s strategy to launch summer blockbuster season a week earlier than usual generated a lukewarm reception offshore with middling results for the massive day-and-date launch of “XXX: State of the Union” at 4,800 playdates in 64 territories, mirroring the mild Stateside performance of the sequel.

Disappointment over “State of the Union” was cushioned somewhat by a solid start for “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in a trio of English-speaking markets and respectable holdover biz from “The Interpreter” and “The Pacifier.”

But overall business was sharply curtailed by warmer than usual weather in key European markets. “They were at the beach, the pool, the park, everywhere but the cinema,” an Italo exhib says.

Friday-Sunday grosses in Italy plunged 44% with France dropping 37%, Germany sliding 30% and Spain down 20%. Exhibs expressed hope salvation would arrive via Fox’s launch of Ridley Scott’s epic “Kingdom of Heaven” (opening in all markets except China and Japan) and May 19 by its “Star Wars — Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.”

“We are desperate now, but we need to be optimistic and think about the next weeks for two reasons,” one Spanish booker says amid the territory’s lowest level of business this year. “First, the strongest releases of 2005 are to come. Second, box office has to go up because it can’t get any worse.”

Sony’s “State of the Union,” starring Ice Cube, dominated the concerns of distribs and exhibitors as its saturation release precluded all but a few limited openings and expansions for other entries. Five-day take through May 3 had hit $20 million — a decidedly downbeat start for the second version of an action franchise that launched three years ago with Vin Diesel in “XXX” and cumed $135 million foreign.

In Germany, “State of the Union” just barely beat the soph sesh of “The Interpreter,” with less than a1 million ($1.29 million) — a rare feat for a chart topper. The original attracted more than 700,000 viewers on its opening weekend in 2002, five times the level of the sequel.

“People smelled a flop,” one Teuton exhib says, adding that on such a warm weekend, only die-hard moviegoers such as action-loving male teens would bother going to the cinema.

In France, poor turnout for “XXX” sequel was no surprise for exhibs, who note the predecessor generated a much higher turnout in its debut week — 535,418 tickets compared with this one’s 207,910 — but dropped by 50% in its soph sesh as bad word of mouth circulated. Additionally, the macho actioner is not exactly in line with tastes of many French moviegoers.

“If the first episode was watchable due to the charisma of Vin Diesel, its sequel is frankly awful,” wrote a reviewer for webzine Monsieur Cinema. “Ice Cube can’t carry it off … he puts the film to sleep.”

In Spain, “XXX 2″ took in just over $1 million to edge the soph sesh of “Sahara” and the third frame of “Interpreter.” “The fact that the movie’s leading the top 10 is nothing but a sign of the lack of good films,” one Spanish booker says.

In the U.K., takings for “XXX 2″ failed to reach £1 million ($1.90 million) with bookers saying the soft bow confirmed poor pre-release buzz over the limited box office impact of Cube, no U.K. preem and very negative reviews. But “Hitchhiker’s Guide” gave a major boost to overall Blighty biz, which jumped 28% following a languid April.

As of May 3, “Guide” had grossed an impressive $8.3 million in its first five days in the U.K. “However much ‘XXX 2′ may have failed, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ more than made up for it,” one booker says.

Exhibs cited an array of positive factors: a massive promo push for “Guide,” a PG rating, good awareness of Douglas Adams’ writings the Monty Python-esque brand of humor that worked well last year for “Shaun of the Dead.”

“Guide” also cumed a solid $2.6 million in its first six days in Oz and $600,000 more in New Zealand. Its other major offshore launches will come in June and July.

UIP’s “Interpreter” remained a significant player with $41 million foreign cume in 33 territories as of May 3, led by $10 million in the U.K., $5.2 million in Spain, $4.16 million in Germany and $4.04 million in Oz.

BVI’s “The Pacifier,” which has been solid in the family segment with $42.4 million in 24 markets as of May 3, saw biz fade due to the heat wave in Euro markets such as Italy (off 63%) and Germany (down 51%).

Gallic films dominated in France with the fourth frame of “Brice de Nice” again leading, giving the surf comedy $22.4 million total. “XXX 2″ finished fourth as it trailed “Brice,” thriller “Anthony Zimmer” and the opening of Bruce Willis’ “Hostage,” which benefited from the thesp’s promo appearances and his being named as an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters, Gaul’s highest cultural honor.

Japan continued to generate solid numbers for Warner’s “Constantine” with $14.26 million after three weeks as of May 4, supplanting the U.K. as the thriller’s top territory. Foreign cume has hit $142.5 million.

U.K. moviegoers remained supportive of Brit animation project “Valiant,” down 29% in its sixth week for a $14.2 million cume along with $7.13 million in France.

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

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