Tentpoles poised to topple in wake of Cup

Not all parts of the world are scared of football mania

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

That will be the mantra for many international exhibs, as they try to compete with World Cup matches, which started June 9, by screening the games in cinemas.

In some cases, games will screen with a concession minimum to buoy revs.

The only good news for Hollywood, meantime, at the international wickets was that the combined potency in the latest frame of tentpoles “The Da Vinci Code,” “Poseidon” and “X-Men: The Last Stand” — along with holdovers “Mission: Impossible III” and the second “Ice Age” pic — buoyed B.O. above last year’s same heady weekend that saw “Star Wars: Episode III” ruling the planet.

The bad news is that any chance of outpacing 2005 during the weekend of June 9-11 this year looks unlikely as World Cup action kicked off.

“The World Cup is more of a cultural event than a sporting event, and no one wants to be left out of the party,” one U.K. booker says. He added that he’s “pretty much resigned to the prospect of empty theaters through June.”

But not all parts of the world are scared.

“Pics like ‘Poseidon’ or ‘Cars’ shouldn’t be damaged by the World Cup,” huffs a Spanish bizzer. “Children’s holidays start in late June (in Spain), and there are a lot of people who are sick of soccer. It doesn’t make any sense to be frightened of soccer.”

Still, key turf sure to be affected by football mania includes host Germany, England, France, Spain, Mexico, Japan, Australia, Argentina and Brazil.

Newcomers such as “Cars,” “RV” and “The Omen” will have to look for non-sports fans to support their causes. Meantime, cinemas with digital screens are trying to get in on the act, billing World Cup matches to draw auds instead of movies.

The Cup should mark a precipitous drop for Sony’s “Code,” which survived a harshly received debut at Cannes to crack more B.O. overseas than at home.

Even with a drop of more than 40%, the pic added better than $51 million to its $409 million total take from 95 territories. Pic is primed to surpass Sony’s other biggest international pics, both “Spider-Man” installments.

Japan and Italy have been highlights for the Tom Hanks starrer. But in France, where pic’s action is centered, “Da Vinci’s” dropoff was 53% to $3.6 million at 945 engagements.

In the U.K., “Code” slipped a whopping 63%. That plunged Blighty biz downward 49% from the previous weekend. Summer’s first prolonged stretch of warm weather also helped to hit biz hard and left exhibs feeling gloomy about June.

“This was our last chance to make some cash before the World Cup starts, but the weather killed all chances of a fast start to the month,” comments one downbeat U.K. bizzer.

But exhibs feel that “Code” is more Cup-proof than some other pics, as it has a female fan base that don’t necessarily see pics on opening weekend.

Finishing No. 1 ahead of “Code,” Fox’s “X-Men” slipped 62% in its soph frame.

Warner Bros.’ “Poseidon” sank to No. 3 in its opening frame. Disaster pic was down even from bookers’ modest expectations, and the pic didn’t play with younger demos.

UIP’s “United 93” received raves in the U.K., but failed to do boffo box office. Exhibs hope good word of mouth will encourage sophisticated auds to see the 9/11 pic as a breather from the Cup.

In England, the Cup looks ready to obliterate cinema biz for June, with the home team playing June 10, 15 and 20. German exhibs across the country have opted to screen matches on the bigscreen. “There are no major releases coming up,” says one German bizzer. “Most of the games are in the evenings, and that doesn’t help. The entire country is watching football. It’s like we’re all going on holiday.”

In the last frame in Germany, “Da Vinci” code was tops, having taken in $30.3 million in two weeks of release.

In its German bow, “Poseidon” did manage to float to No. 2: Disaster pic pulled in just over $2 million ahead of the latest “X-Men” film.

In Spain, only one potential blockbuster is programmed to bow in June, “Over the Hedge.” But Spanish exhibs don’t feel as strongly that soccer will interfere with their product, and they expressed dissatisfaction that distribs are holding back many bigger pics.

In the latest frame in Spain, “Da Vinci” was tops. Pic has taken in almost $26 million, and “X-Men” has piled on nearly $8.5 million in just 10 days of release.

Japanese exhibs seem to agree with Spain that B.O. would not be kicked completely by soccer. Trying to ride the wave, Toshiba Entertainment is releasing its inspirational soccer pic, “Goal!” produced with the approval of FIFA and the Japan Football Association.

Ploy is to draw fans who might otherwise be camped out in a pub, and Toshiba is offering deeply discounted tickets ($4.50 versus the standard $16.22) at the Tokyo theater where the pic is playing to any fan wearing a soccer uniform on the three days of the Japan team’s scheduled matches: June 12, 18 and 22.

Down Under, Oz B.O. bounced, thanks to “Da Vinci’s” bow, by a whopping 100% on the previous weekend. Then again, that last frame had been the lowest all year. “Da Vinci” opened on 561 screens — the widest-ever release in Oz.

(Mark Schilling in Japan, Ed Meza in Germany, Archie Thomas in the U.K., Esther de Prado in Spain, Sheri Jennings in Italy and Michaela Boland in Australia contributed to this report.)

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