Pic's o'seas take is double its domestic launch -- $154.7 mil

Years from now, when folks want to make the point that there’s no such thing as bad publicity for a film, they’ll first mention “The Da Vinci Code.”

Amid worldwide controversy over the film’s religious implications, plus an array of downbeat reviews, Sony’s “Code” cracked the international box office as no pic ever before, blowing away expectations with $154.7 million at 12,213 playdates in its opening weekend — more than double its domestic launch.

The Tom Hanks thriller easily topped the record $145 million launch for “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” set during the same weekend last year. It then tacked on an impressive $35.3 million over the next two weekdays, pushing the foreign cume to $190 million as of May 23 and the worldwide take to $280 million.

All told, “Code” saw half a dozen markets — the U.K., Germany, France, Japan, Spain and Italy — top $11 million in its opening frames. Pic also set records in the heavily Catholic markets of Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela along with Eastern European territories Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia.

Its $4.8 million set a record in China for opening for a non-local pic; it also achieved that distinction in Turkey and the Dominican Republic.

The numbers also heartened foreign distribs and exhibitors, who have been hoping Hollywood can deliver the same kind of consistent tentpole success the biz saw in 2004, when seven films grossed $300 million-plus internationally.

That number declined to four last year, and only one pic so far — “Ice Age: The Meltdown” — had crossed the barrier in 2006. The “Ice Age” sequel is still minting money on the foreign front, with international gross crossing $430 million as of May 23, lifting the worldwide cume to $640 million.

“Code” is clearly heading to the same box office territory. For example, in the U.K., “Code’s” $17.8 million opening weekend — 25% better than original forecasts — quintupled the take of the No. 2 pic, “Mission: Impossible 3,” and then showed it was no fluke with $4.2 million more on Monday, May 22.

Emboldened by the boffo bow, Brit bookers predict a final “Code” cume of between $55 million and $65 million. Daily Mail columnist Baz Bamigboye calls “Code” critic-proof and adds, “Frankly, whatever reviewers say won’t mean a hill of beans.”

In Italy, “Code” drove overall biz up by 129%. “All the polemics from the Church served only to help the film,” one Italo exhib exclaims. “Not bad!”

In Germany, for example, overall biz jumped 140% thank to “Code.” “The film’s success shows that moviegoers aren’t influenced by film critics,” a Teuton exhibitor notes. “People have been dying to see this film, and they want to make up their own minds.”

“Code” sold 1.5 million tickets in Germany on its opening frame, second only to the 2.4 million ducats sold for the launch sesh for “Ice Age 2.” German exhibitors have forecasted “Code” can hit $50 million in the market by the end of its run.

In Spain, where many potential customers couldn’t get tickets on the opening weekend, exhibitors noted the Catholic Church had gone low-key as “Code” opened. “Maybe the Catholic Church realized the movie’s content is just fiction, or maybe they think that creating buzz will only help the film,” says one.

In France, “Code” easily topped three-time champ “Camping” by better than 4-to-1 and sold 1.7 million tickets in its first week — including a combined quarter-million on its first Monday and Tuesday.

Rival exec notes “Code’s” performance underlines the viability of recognizable film properties in the international markets and portends well for Fox’s “X-Men: The Last Stand” and such high-profile upcoming pics as BVI’s “Cars” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” Warner’s “Superman Returns” and Sony/MGM’s “Casino Royale.”

In the meantime, “Mission: Impossible 3″ continued to perform respectably in its third week, with foreign grosses nearing $168 million as of May 23 and the worldwide take at $273 million.

Brit bookers pointed to a 34% dip for the Tom Cruise starrer, which hit $24 million as of May 23. “The (strong) hold almost compensates for the soft opening,” one notes.

But in Spain, “MI3″ nearly disappeared, plunging 53% in the third frame to less than $1 million with a less-than-stellar cume of $7.8 million as of May 23. The lukewarm performance prompted one Iberian exhibitor to offer a downbeat assessment of the prospects for action pics generally.

“There’s very little in ‘Mission: Impossible 3′ that we haven’t seen in ’24’ or ‘Alias,’ and people are beginning to notice,” he says.

With soccer’s World Cup starting June 9, distribs opted more and more for limited openings on the foreign front. Warner Bros. saw moderate returns from its second frame of “Poseidon” in six Asian markets, with best cumes coming from Thailand with $1.7 million and India with $1.6 million.

And UIP saw grosses for “Over the Hedge” hit $1 million from three markets as of May 23, with $535,513 in Singapore, $246,476 from the Philippines and $220,781 in Malaysia.

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

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