'RV' box office on a roll

Robin Williams starrer “RV” is providing a vivid reminder of the importance to pix of the hix in the stix.

On April 28, Sony’s Robin Williams comedy “RV” opened to $16 million. A week later, Paramount’s summer tentpole “Mission: Impossible III” bowed to three times as much: $48 million.

But this past weekend, “RV” grossed $5.3 million over four days, or 61% of the $8.6 million “MI3″ take.

Driven largely by smaller markets, “RV” turned out to have the best legs of any major studio release this year, especially stronger than those of “MI3.”

When “MI3″ bowed to an underwhelming $47.7 million, Par execs were counting on strong legs against the following week’s “Poseidon,” as well as a solid Memorial Day frame, to keep the actioner afloat.

“We have a lot of momentum going into next weekend,” Par marketing, distribution and operations prexy Rob Moore said at the time. “We have to do a little work so that younger audiences know this is a franchise for them.”

But the film didn’t recover from its soft opening. It fell 48% against “Poseidon” the next frame and 55% on its third weekend against “The Da Vinci Code.” It dropped only 38% over the first three days of Memorial Day, but that turned out to be too little too late. With a $116.2 million domestic cume as of Monday, pic is unlikely to even surpass $140 million domestic. The original “Mission: Impossible” had a total take of $181 million in 1996, while the sequel cumed $215 million six years ago.

The foreign story is better, but not enough to count “MI3″ a financial success story, especially after Cruise takes his healthy cut of the gross.

“MI3″ dominated the foreign box office for its first two weekends (a period during which no other major pic opened) with $70 million on its launch frame and $40 million on its second weekend. It has followed the franchise’s usual pattern of generating slightly above 60% of its grosses overseas and had surpassed $184 million as of Monday, with South Korea the biggest contributor at $32 million.

But stellar performances by “The Da Vinci Code” and “X-Men: The Last Stand” relegated “MI3″ to a distant third during this past weekend with $12.2 million. Final foreign gross probably will be $240 million-$250 million, with Japan expected to kick in at least as much as South Korea after it opens July 8.

The first “Mission” generated $270 million overseas, and “MI2″ grossed $330 million offshore.

That will leave “MI3″ with a likely worldwide cume well under $400 million, which simply isn’t enough to turn a significant profit on a $150 million-plus tentpole with a full-scale global marketing campaign, unless it does spectacularly well in homevideo and other ancillary markets.

Meanwhile, laffer “RV” has managed to belie industry expectations by holding on so well that it should end up more than quadrupling its $16.4 million opening, which was in line with tracking but didn’t wow anyone.

Domestic cume was $57.3 million as of Monday. Final take will likely be in the mid-60s and possibly as high as $70 million.

Williams starrer declined only 33% in its second frame, against “MI3,” and then an astounding 10% against “Poseidon.” Pic fell back to earth on its fourth frame as “Over the Hedge” stole much of the family aud on its opening frame. But “RV” was back in rarefied air for its fifth frame, declining only 17% over the first three days of Memorial Day weekend.

“As we looked at it, we saw it was playing best in places like Oklahoma, Omaha, Atlanta, Houston and Fresno,” noted Sony distribution prexy Rory Bruer. “It’s really a heartland favorite. The top of the list are theaters that you don’t typically see.”

Pic’s foreign prospects are more dicey. American-oriented comedies can be a tricky sell in overseas markets, though Sony managed to take in $91 million internationally from “Fun With Dick and Jane.”

Sony is opening “RV” in overseas markets this weekend, starting with Australia and Italy. Most of the foreign territories will launch during the World Cup, which starts June 9, the same day “RV” opens in the U.K. and Mexico.

“RV” will be re-titled in a number of foreign markets, including “RV: Runaway Vacation” in the U.K., “The Mission to Relax” in Taiwan, “Crazy Vacation” in most Spanish-speaking territories excluding Spain, where auds will see “Vaya Vacaciones,” or “What a Vacation.” In France, Switzerland and Belgium, “RV” will be “Camping Car.”

Most Asian markets will open June 16, and Germany and Spain will open June 29.

“We see a family comedy like this as pretty good counterprogramming to the World Cup,” said Mark Zucker, president of distribution for Sony Pictures Releasing Intl.

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