Pic has nearly doubled Stateside take

Talk about global warming.

Three weeks of better-than-expected performance by Fox Intl.’s “Ice Age: The Meltdown” has revived what had been a lackluster 2006 at the international box office. For the first three months of the year, the only consistently strong entry had been BVI’s 2005 holdover “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

As of April 19, “Ice Age: The Meltdown” had grossed $291 million to nearly double the Stateside take of $152 million. The CGI sequel exerted a powerful pull over audiences outside its core family demo in virtually every market and appeared likely — with openings this weekend in Italy, Japan and South Korea — to become only the 20th pic ever to top $400 million in offshore grosses.

Over the Easter weekend, “Meltdown” — or “Ice Age 2″ as it’s called in many overseas markets — managed to top $60 million at 8,306 playdates in 57 markets. That was more than the combined grosses of the next nine pics, led by UIP’s “Inside Man” at $12.9 million from 2,714 sites, with studios opting for mostly targeted openings.

Boffo returns for “Meltdown” have provided foreign exhibitors a tonic on two fronts — signaling strong interest in upcoming high-profile CG toons such as UIP’s “Over the Hedge” and BVI’s “Cars” and laying the groundwork for next month’s day-and-date releases of “Mission: Impossible III,” Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” and Fox’s “X-Men 3.”

In the U.K., bookers projected a final “Meltdown” cume of more than $50 million, citing genuine appeal to adult audiences plus massive popularity of the homevid version of the original “Ice Age.”

Similarly, in Germany, “Meltdown” benefited from strong family biz over the Easter holiday with Teuton exhibitors stressing the pic’s appeal to teens and young adults, given the large crowds at late showings. And Spanish bookers note that the five-day holiday period gave added impetus to patronize the sequel.

” ‘Ice Age 2′ performed impressively every day,” one Iberian exhibitor adds.

In France, the second frame of “Meltdown” dominated the launches of French toon “Asterix and the Vikings” and “Inside Man” by better than 3-to-1 and took in 34% of the market. One Paris exhibitor notes that the classic animation style in “Asterix” may seem less exciting to kids in the face of CG entries.

“Meltdown” faced its only serious competition in Australia, where schools in all states but Victoria started a two-week vacation. It dropped a mere 19% in its soph sesh, easily fending off challenges from openings of BVI’s “Scary Movie 4″ and UIP’s “Failure to Launch.”

Still, “Scary Movie 4″ represented the Easter frame’s most impressive debut with a slightly stronger per-screen average than “Meltdown” as BVI opted for day-and-date launches at 1,070 playdates in Oz and seven other markets. Best perf for the spoof came in the U.K., though the numbers fell short of expectations, and in Oz, where vacationing teens provided solid support.

But BVI’s day-and-date opening of CG toon “The Wild” was more like “The Tamed” with a moderate-at-best $11.37 million at about 2,550 sites in two dozen markets as of April 18. Top figures for “The Wild,” aimed at the 8-and-under set, came in Spain with $1.52 million, Mexico with $1.38 million and Italy at $1.45 million.

Italian exhibitors assert “The Wild” played well in their market, but anticipated the kidpic won’t show much traction once “Ice Age 2″ opens.

And in France, “The Wild” faced too much competition, finishing eighth in a market that favored family entries “Meltdown” and “Asterix and the Vikings.”

French patrons showed far more interest about “Inside Man,” which finished third with a solid $9,822 per-screen average. Spanish support wasn’t as enthusiastic, despite the lack of other adult-themed entries, but U.K. backing remained solid, with the Denzel Washington starrer cuming well over $11 million after a month.

Other counterprogrammers showed traction, such as “Final Destination 3″ in Germany, finishing second for Warner with $2.09 million at 356.

Lakeshore’s “She’s the Man” also pleased exhibitors in the U.K. with $5 million in its first two weeks plus another $2.1 million in Australia. Distrib aimed the comedy slightly younger than in the U.S., capitalizing on star Amanda Bynes’ appeal to young teens and parents.

In Australia, Roadshow saw “March of the Penguins” grosses more than double to $480,139 after tripling the playdates to 132 screens in its third frame, though exhibitors questioned the lengthy wait for the Oscar-winning docu.

“American Haunting” scared up only mild Brit biz, finishing sixth in a launch three weeks prior to the U.S. opening. One booker blames “horror fatigue,” citing less-than-stellar quality of recent entries.

A pair of 2005 holdovers remained in overseas multiplexes — BVI’s “Narnia,” which finished third in its seventh weekend in Japan to hit $445 million overseas, and Spyglass’ “Memoirs of a Geisha,” which finished fifth in Holland in its second weekend. “Geisha” has cumed $102 million in foreign markets.

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

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