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‘Narnia’ roars across the half-billion mark

Germany, Italy biz up but trend doesn't spread through Europe

As the year at the overseas wickets — generally seen as a sagging — came to a close, the U.K. exhib sector was happily riding a massive high with in influx of hit pics.

Biz also jumped nicely in Germany, thanks to an unlikely hit, and in Italy, thanks to local pics pulling their weight. But the trend didn’t spread through all of Europe.

Bucking the downward trend in major Euro territories, U.K. box office finished up 1% from 2004’s tallies, thanks primarily to a boffo December that saw ticket sales swell 30%.

A spectacular showing for Buena Vista Intl.’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” had exhibs breathing a sigh of relief. (The pic also picked up biz in most markets in which it played, including strong showings in Oz, Spain and Korea, and crossed the $500 million mark globally.)

A strong first weekend in January in the U.K. only heightened the upbeat mood in Blighty: Biz was up 18% as compared with the same weekend in 2005, and down just 5% from the previous socko weekend. Robust holds for “Narnia,” UIP’s “King Kong” and “Just Like Heaven,” another UIP title, added to surprisingly strong debuts for local distribs Icon (“Match Point”) and Momentum (“Just Friends”).

Despite disappointing returns in other markets, Peter Jackson’s “Kong” took the U.K.’s top spot, dipping just 19% in its fourth frame.

“It will pass £30 million ($53 million), which can never be scoffed at,” predicted one booker.

“Narnia” dipped 29% in its fifth frame in the U.K. With $67.5 million already in the hopper, the kid-lit fantasy is on course to become BVI’s biggest-ever performer in the territory. (“Toy Story 2” holds the record with $78 million, but BVI is confident “Narnia” will pass that figure in late January, possibly posting a final cume nearing a whopping $88 million.

Coming in at No. 3 in the U.K., “Just Friends” doubled expectations and proved Momentum’s biggest-ever opener, eclipsing “Racing Stripes.” All told, pic seems set for an $8.5-$9 million final cume.

Riding Oscar buzz from the U.S., Entertainment’s “Brokeback Mountain” capitalized on its excellent reviews: From 125 key locations, the pic took in $1,742,021 at a chart-topping screen average of $13,936. It opens nationwide across the U.K. Jan. 13. Pic could mount $17 million in Blighty alone.

Another auteur-driven effort, Woody Allen’s “Match Point” considerably outpaced expectations in the U.K. Icon delivered the best ever opening for an Allen pic there, and bookers attribute success to the fact, ironically, that it was never sold as an Allen pic.

Eschewing “Narnia” and “Kong,” German B.O. also got a boost, but from Sony Intl.’s “Fun With Dick and Jane.” The Jim Carrey-Tea Leoni remake helped to boost ticket sales by nearly 76% from the previous frame, and even knocked “Narnia” from the top spot. “Kong” came in third.

“‘Dick and Jane’ is profiting from weeks of fantasy spectacles like ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ and ‘King Kong,’ ” said one Teutonic booker. “It’s the perfect kind of comedy fare to give viewers, especially women, an alternative to witches, monsters and dinosaurs.”

Exhib added that “Narnia” bested “Kong” due to its more kid-friendly content. Unlike “Kong,” with an age-12 rating in Germany, “Narnia” can be seen by tykes 6 and above, making the pic more appropriate for families.

Rounding out the German charts, war pic UIP’s “Jarhead” opened at No. 4, with $1.75 million from 320 copies, while “Match Point,” in its second week, garnered $1.13 million.

“Point” was playing particularly well in arthouses in Germany.

B.O. in Italy, another territory that proved tough for Hollywood in ’05 jumped 29% compared with the previous frame, as Italian auds mostly watched local pics over the holidays.

“Ti amo in tutte le lingue del mondo” (I Love You in all the Languages of the World), by Leonardo Pieraccioni, overtook “Narnia” there for the chart’s top spot.

With “Narnia” taking No. 2, local laugher “Natale a Miami” slipped to third.

The one Hollywood standout in Italy was “Narnia,” which has held, as one exhib noted, because Italians have a strong sense of family; this is a picture we can all see.” It’s also a story that seems new to Italians, as many are unfamiliar with the books there.

Jackson’s “Kong” has been a letdown to Italo exhibs, who groused about the pic’s violence and long running time.

Italian bizzers say “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Rumor Has It” should shine once the spotlights of other holiday fantasy fare fades.

B.O. also had a nice hike in Spain, jumping 72% from the previous frame, to $14.2 million.

But the nice bumps in the rest of Europe weren’t felt all over the Continent: Gallic B.O. fell a steep 41% compared with the week prior.

Exhibs blamed the drop on the end of kids’ vacations and their parents’ empty wallets from the holiday season.

Topping the anemic Gallic list, and suffering a 53% dropoff in ticket sales, was “Narnia,” which took home $4.2 million in its third frame. The pic in France has proven legs however, taking in nearly $27 million in just two weeks of release.

Though it stands as the fifth-best bow of 2005, “Kong” has been lost in translation in France, with so-so word-of-mouth among auds.

Changing gears, local distrib SND’s “Lord of War” fought its way into second place in France, beating out both “Kong” and the latest “Harry Potter” pic. Pic, starring Nicolas Cage as an arms dealer, took home almost $3 million in its first week on French soil.

Apart from major studio pics, Metro’s “Good Night and Good Luck” bowed at No. 7 in France, with a strong per-screen average.

French biz is now looking ahead to Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” to boost ticket sales come Jan. 25.

“Kong” lost out once again in Hong Kong. The pic was made a monkey out of in Hong Kong by “Harry Potter,” which landed at No. 1 yet again, after three weeks in release, with a cume of $5.6 million. “Kong” has taken in $4.7 million there in as many weeks.

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

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