United Kingdom: Kid biz bullish, but only select indies hit

Territory report

B.O. cume: $989 million
Top title: “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (Fox, $69 million)

“Brothers of the Head” (Tartan)
“Down in the Valley” (Icon)
“Greyfriars Bobby” (The Works)
“Reeker” (Pathe)
“Tsotsi” (Momentum)
“Twelve and Holding” (Redbus)

“The Front Line”: Fresh from “Kingdom of Heaven,” Eriq Ebouaney plays an African security guard in contempo Dublin, blackmailed into helping the IRA stage a bank robbery. Written and directed by David Gleeson. Shooting to start in November. (Sales: High Point Films)
“The Great Pretender”: Ewan McGregor plays multiple roles in this comedy from Scottish writer-director Peter Capaldi, about a temperamental 1930s movie star and his rather more likable stand-in. Shooting in January. (Sales: Arclight Films)
“Keeping Mum”: Thanks to “Bean” and “Johnny English,” Rowan Atkinson is that very rare commodity, a genuine British box office star who can open a movie all around the world. Here he plays a country vicar whose wife (Kristen Scott Thomas) is cuckolding him with the local golf pro (Patrick Swayze). Written and directed by Niall Johnson. Screens at AFM. (Sales: Summit Entertainment)

LONDON — The summer of 2005 has proved there are no certainties in the U.K. indie distribution business, except that Entertainment Film Distributors will always come out on top at the box office.

Entertainment has logged the four highest-grossing indie releases of the year to date, with “Wedding Crashers” way out in front with $23 million. It’s followed by “Valiant” ($14.9 million), “White Noise” ($11.3 million) and “Monster-in-Law” ($11.1 million).

The stronger-than-expected performance of “Valiant,” along with decent enough showings by Pathe’s “The Magic Roundabout” and Momentum’s “Racing Stripes,” shows kid pics are at a premium in the indie marketplace, if distribs can only manage to get hold of them.

The surprise of the summer is Pathe’s boffo result with the Paul Haggis drama “Crash.” As an L.A.-centric drama about racial issues, this is the kind of high-quality indie pic that routinely underperforms outside the States.

But Pathe managed to market it like a major studio thriller rather than an edgy indie item.

“We almost banned the word ‘race,’ and we did arguably one of the most boring posters we’ve ever produced, a Mount Rushmore with every member of the cast,” says Pathe’s distrib chief Ian George. “We tried to make it look like a big studio-backed film.”

Backed by strong reviews and good word of mouth, the movie has soared to $10.2 million — better even than Entertainment’s Oscar-fueled result with “Million Dollar Baby” ($9.5 million) earlier in the year.

On the downside, two highly anticipated horror pics — Pathe’s “The Descent” and Optimum’s “Wolf Creek” — failed to light the expected fires. “The Descent” had the misfortune to come out the day after the London underground and bus bombings, and struggled to $4.7 million. “Wolf Creek” will reach about $3.5 million.

DVD value should still be strong on both pics, although that market is no longer quite what it was. “DVD was like shooting fish in a barrel, but the fish are getting fewer and farther between as the audience gets more selective,” says George.

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