'Kong' strong but can't top 'Narnia'

As 2005’s final worldwide tentpole, “King Kong” turned out to be much like the year itself at the international box office — respectable but hardly spectacular.

As of Dec. 27, with two full weeks under its belt, UIP’s “King Kong” had grabbed $176.8 million in 55 offshore markets. That total included $34.3 million during the Friday-Sunday Christmas weekend, placing “Kong” a close second to BVI’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which grossed $35.2 million for the sesh.

Overall biz took an expected hit during the holiday frame, as Christmas fell on a Sunday for the first time in 11 years, but then saw solid performances during the final weekdays of the year.

The “Kong” grosses hardly represented chump change, but remake remained far short of repeating the box office potency shown earlier this year by “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” which wound up its first two weeks with a beefy $263 million, or “War of the Worlds,” which cumed $201 million foreign in its first dozen days.

Fortunately for exhibitors, a pair of family-friendly faves — BVI’s “Chronicles of Narnia” and Warner’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” — remained powerful players internationally, with “Narnia” hitting $156.7 million in international cume as of Dec. 27, including $12 million on that day.

Meanwhile, “Goblet” has become the 11th film of all time — joining the other three “Harry Potter” pics, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy plus “Titanic,” “Jurassic Park,” “Finding Nemo” and “Independence Day” — to eclipse half a billion dollars in foreign grosses. The fourth Potter pic had reached $507.8 million as of Dec. 27 and Warner execs are confident it will pass “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” at $543 million in international cume.

“King Kong” turned in its best perfs in the U.K., with nearly $27 million in its first 13 days, and France, with $16.1 million in its first two weeks. French exhibitors weren’t displeased, but they had hoped for a tres boffo result from “Kong,” which saw grosses slide sharply in its soph sesh against an impressive “Narnia” debut.

The gorilla pic never picked up strong buzz before its French bow, and word of mouth has subsequently been mixed. During the post-Christmas week, local exhibs saw “Narnia” as performing strongly over the next few weeks, while the staying power of “Kong” was up in the air.

The third-best “Kong” results came from South Korea, which saw a 22% surge over the Christmas weekend and a 12-day total of nearly $13 million. Still, “Kong” has lagged behind local hit “Typhoon,” centered on a modern-day pirate planning an attack on North and South Korea, by about $6 million over the same period.

Germany followed with $12.4 million for “Kong” as of Dec. 27, amid some grousing by German exhibitors that UIP should have amped up its major advertising push for the gorilla pic earlier than about a week before the opening. Mexico was the only other market in which “Kong” hit eight figures, with just over $10 million after a dozen days.

Thanks to the combo of slowdowns on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day plus competish from “Narnia,” some soph-sesh “Kong” grosses declined sharply: In Russia, second-week grosses slid 62%. Still, the Russian market continued to show surprising vigor with a Dec. 27 “Kong” cume of $7.8 million, the seventh-largest market after Oz with $9 million and Spain with $8.7 million.

As for “Narnia,” BVI execs asserted that the fantasy-adventure, which hasn’t been burdened with the sort of expectations that surround “Kong,” has enough gas in its tank to wind up above $300 million by the end of its foreign run.

“Narnia” beat “King Kong” in most markets over the Christmas weekend and its French launch delivered a drubbing by better than 2-to-1. “Narnia” had established a major buzz before the French bow, thanks to the C.S. Lewis books, pic’s religious theme and its family-friendly story.

As of Dec. 27, U.K. grosses had hit $47 million, followed by $16.6 million in Germany, $15.5 million in Mexico and $14 million in Spain. Australia turned in an impressive perf for “Narnia” following its Boxing Day opening with $6.5 million in its first two days.

One Oz exhibitor described the results as “sensational,” noting audiences rep a mixed bag of family groups and older patrons. “I was surprised to observe just how broad it was playing,” notes Francois Sauzier.

In Italy, however, local titles dominated, with “Christmas in Miami” (Natale a Miami) and Leonardo Pierracioni’s “I Love You in All the Languages of the World.” “Miami” exceeded the combined total of “Narnia” and “King Kong” over Christmas week.

“The types of auds that go to see ‘Natale a Miami’ are a ‘low-brow’ group — teenagers that don’t want to stay at home,” one Italo exhib notes.

“Kong” had cumed $6.1 million after a dozen days in Italy — the lowest gross among any major European market for the gorilla pic. Exhibitor cite the pic’s three-hour length and its violence as a deterrent to attendance by families.

BVI continued to tap the family market with a respectable Japanese launch for “Chicken Little,” which has cumed nearly $80 million overseas.

In counterprogramming moves, Warners launched Jennifer Aniston comedy “Rumor Has It” to moderate returns in Germany and Italy, while Fox debuted “The Family Stone” mildly in Germany and Mexico.

In Germany, bookers were happy with how both comedies fared, save for the fact that they were released at the same time. “We could have used more female-oriented comedies in fall, when we had too much horror,” one mused.

(Lisa Klaussmann in France, Michaela Boland in Australia, Sherri Jennings in Italy and Christian Koehl in Germany contributed to this report.)

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