'Gromit' continues to hold strong

Fighting off dismal returns in the U.S., “The Legend of Zorro” swung into theaters around the world over the Oct. 28-30 frame to win the day at the overseas B.O.

Pic, distribbed via a Sony partnership with Spyglass, rang up the fall’s biggest debut to date and bested UIP’s “Wallace & Gromit,” opening to about $28.5 million in 50 markets.

Starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, the pic played particul arly well in Spanish-speaking areas, finishing first in Spain and Mexico. Other winning markets for the pic were France, Brazil, China and Russia. Pic wasn’t as lucky in the U.K. or Italy, among other territories.

Meantime, UIP’s “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” continued to hold strong, bettering bookers’ hopes in many cases. Pic has taken in more than $90.5 million to date overseas.

Rounding out the top five internationally were: Warner Bros.’ “Corpse Bride,” Buena Vista’s “Flightplan” and UIP’s “Nanny McPhee.”

Bouyed by Brit pics, U.K. wickets continued to show signs of life, with biz up 13% compared with the previous frame — and a whopping 70% ahead of the same frame last year. “Saw 2’s” strong bow and excellent holds for UIP duo “Wallace & Gromit” and “Nanny McPhee” led the field. The fact that Friday Oct. 28 was a school holiday meant kiddie pics held up well.

“Nanny” was up 18% from its opening frame. Exhibs attributed its success to solid playground buzz — “a seemingly insatiable appetite for Brit product at present,” said one exhib — and an innovative campaign. B.O. success is impressive given mixed reviews.

“Wallace” continued to defy expectations: The Aardman pic dipped just 23% in its third frame, and has now scored $6,334,927 in Blighty. Forecasts keep being nudged up by ecstatic bookers.

Horror sequel “Saw 2″ took third spot in its opening frame in the U.K., with $3,859,580 from 303 screens, for an average of $12,737. Opening was 25% better than most bookers’ estimates. They attributed the pic’s success to a well-timed release. “There is no horror out there and little male-skewed product,” noted one.

“Saw 2″ cornered the market for Halloween fare over the weekend, though exhibs predict that the pic will slide at least 40% in its soph sesh.

“The Legend of Zorro” in the U.K. fell on its own sword amid bad reviews. Sony pic couldn’t manage even a £2 million ($3.5 million) opening, including previews, and finished a poor fourth.

“Corpse Bride” and “Sky High” slipped 19% and 11%, respectively, in their second weekends, which U.K. bookers felt was solid.

Bookers in Blighty are abuzz by Universal’s upcoming “King Kong.” Exhibs in the territory were treated to 20 minutes of the pic Nov. 1, and one booker said he was blown away. “The effects are simply out of this world,” he enthused.

Expectations for Walden/Disney’s bigscreen adaptation “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lions, the Witch and the Wardrobe” are also sky high.

In France, box office also continued its upward trajectory last week as the bow of “Zorro” sliced up and brought home the bacon, while “Wallace” held strong. The debut of Woody Allen’s “Match Point” had a strong perf. Success of the frame was attributed to the fact it included a long holiday weekend.

“Zorro” managed to take pole position in its first week, pocketing $7.16 million and putting a smile of the face of Gallic exhibs. Pic was released on 683 screens, giving it a robust $10,489 average haul per engagement.

Pic has been marketed in France as one that appeals to both adults and kids, and the strategy seems to have worked, as the pic did somewhat better than its predecessor, “The Mask of Zorro.”

Coming in at No. 2 in the region was “Wallace,” which saw a 15% spike in ticket sales. Allen’s U.K.-set “Match Point” took third, with $3.3 million in its French bow. Allen is revered in Gaul, and star Scarlett Johansson is a French fave.

Continuing to be a tough crowd for Hollywood pics, Germany’s box office slipped 11.5% as compared with the previous frame, with new entries “Zorro” and “Doom” opening to so-so returns. “Zorro” even failed to down Buena Vista Intl.’s “Flightplan,” which held its altitude at No. 1 in the territory.

“‘Flightplan’ is doing well with adult viewers,” noted one Teutonic exhib. “Jodie Foster is very convincing as a desperate mother. The film has a combination of elements: A parent’s fear of losing a child, the danger of flying and mystery. It’s grabbing people’s attention here.”

Same exhib opined that “Zorro” may just be too quaint for Teutonic viewers. ” ‘Zorro’ is not exactly original,” he said. “It’s probably a bit too old fashioned to excite young viewers, and offers little to adults. It will undoubtedly do better as a DVD.”

Similarly, the booker said that UIP’s “Doom,” which opened at No. 4, would have greater appeal as a homevid title. One added that its rating locked out its younger core demo.

Spain, which was badly in need of some good B.O. news, finally got some over the Oct. 28-30 frame: Biz saw a muscular 28% uptick from the previous weekend, taking in a healthy $12.1 million overall. Coin came almost entirely from the upbeat bows of “Zorro,” Warner Bros.’ “Corpse Bride” and the Bill Murray-starrer “Broken Flowers.”

Despite the good news, exhibs thought that business could have been even better. “The strong rain kept many people at home, and a four-day-long weekend saw many Spaniards on the move,” said one booker.

“Bride” was also a strong performer in various territories, including Italy and Hong Kong, where the pic bowed in first place with more than $500,000.

Italian B.O. dipped by about 15% from the same weekend the year prior. Exhibs chalked up some of the difference to last year’s hits “Shall We Dance” and “The Village.”Roberto Benigni’s “The Tiger in the Snow” saw a steep 43% drop in Italy and exhibs now know the film will not reach expectations.Eagle Pictures’ “The Interpreter” finished in second place behind “Tiger,” with just over $2 million, beating out both “Corpse” and “Zorro.”

(Archie Thomas in the U.K., Ed Meza in Germany, Sheri Jennings in Italy, Liza Klaussmann in France and Esther de Prado in Spain contributed to this report.)

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