French laffer 'Friends' earns impressive numbers

The Feb. 10-12 frame was a good one at the foreign wickets for local pics — as well as for Hollywood’s February assortment of genre odds ‘n’ sods. Pics such as “Final Destination 3,” “Saw 2,” the latest “Underworld” installment and “Big Momma’s House 2″ were able to take advantage of the loss of steam of higher-profile Hollywood titles’ (“Fun With Dick and Jane,” “Munich”).

French comedy sequel “Friends Forever” had the most impressive numbers over the frame, giving exhibs and distribs in Gaul hope that this year may be brighter than the so-so 2005.

Pic finished No. 1 overall internationally in its second frame, despite a 37% slide in ticket sales. And distrib Warner Bros. was quick to point out that “Friends” pocketed 63% more than the mighty “Star Wars Episode III” did in its second weekend in Gaul, and 39% more than the soph sesh perf of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”

Pic — known locally as “Les Bronzes 3: Amis pour la vie” — racked up $14.3 million from 950 prints, with 1.9 million admissions over the Wednesday-Sunday period. Local sensation reteams the cast of the first two pics from the late 1970s. Cume is now at more than $27 million.

That “Friends” perf was enough to beat out UIP’s “Munich” and Buena Vista Intl.’s CG-animated “Chicken Little.” Two very different Fox pics, “Walk the Line” and “Big Momma’s House 2,” rounded out the top five pics overseas.

Meantime, “Capote” will be the last of Oscar’s best pic hopefuls to roll out, Feb. 18. But Oscar noms have not provided films too much of a boost this year.

Steven Spielberg political pic “Munich” easily has the best perf for any Oscar nominated pic, but totals are still not stellar. Pic has so far cumed $52 million, easily outpacing its domestic take. Its highest perf overseas has been in the U.K. ($6.6 million).

“Munich” took in about $11 million, including territories where UIP is not distribbing, such as South Korea and Japan.

In the U.K., BVI’s “Chicken Little” bow led the frame with more than $5.5 million in ticket sales, beating another debut pic, “Final Destination 3,” by more than $1.6 million. “Big Momma’s House 2,” also in its opening frame, finished third.

Sony’s fantasy adventure pic “Zathura,” which had topped the U.K. charts just a week before, fell to fifth place.

Of the top 10 in Blighty over the frame, Oscar hopeful “Brokeback Mountain” has the highest cume — nearly $14 million — for local distrib Entertainment. Company is also releasing “Destination 3″ there.

Even with “Friends Forever” shining in France, Gallic B.O. dipped 5% this week compared with the previous frame.

Still, biz was up a hefty 41% compared with same frame last year, giving hopes 2006 may be more favorable than its dismal predecessor.

In France, “Munich” and “Brokeback Mountain” didn’t seem to get much help from their Oscar noms, with “Munich” placing seventh in its third week with a gross of $1.1 million, and “Brokeback” riding in at No. 10 with just $971,361.

French exhibs are hoping Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line,” which bowed Feb. 15, will perform well on the heels of a strong P&A campaign.

On a positive note for Gallic exhibs, “Bambi II” saw ticket sales rise 5% in its soph sesh. Pic, which came in at No. 2 on the list, brought home $2.4 million. The rise in admissions is partly due to school vacations in some regions.

The opening of “Saw 2″ tore up the competish in Germany, with Constantin’s teen comedy “Wild Chicks” in second.

In other Teutonic bows, Turkish pic “Valley of the Wolves” opened at No. 5, while “Casanova” came in at No. 7.

In Italy, B.O. registered a 17% drop from the previous frame, due in part to “Munich’s” fall, in it’s third weekend, from second to fifth.

Movies also had to compete with the Winter Olympics in Turin.

“This weekend did not see any important releases and, more importantly, the Olympics certainly stole some auds attention, especially Friday night’s opening ceremony,” says an exhib in Rome.

Top weekend pics in Italy were “Prime,” followed by “Underworld: Evolution.”

In Spain, the weekend take fell 10% to $11.4 million from the previous frame, marking the first drop after three consecutive hikes.

“The audience has a lot to chose from,” says one Spanish booker. “It’s not about one high-profile film but many medium-profile ones. It’s good having at least one movie for each taste.”

Sony’s comedy “Fun With Dick and Jane” topped the charts, stealing $1.5 million from 316 copies. BVI’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” followed, with $1.2 million. Pic fell 28% and has cumed $9.7 million in four weeks.

Bookers in Spain say they were delighted with “Geisha’s” attractive figures.

No. 3 in Spain was the second installment of the Underworld” franchise,” which made $1.0 million and has cumed $3.4 million in 10 days. First part made $9.5 million in 2003.

Down Under, February and August are traditionally the weakest months for movies. But BVI’s decision to release “Casanova” on a Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, proved a winner.

Pic earned a solid A$300,000 ($225,000) in one day –an especially good result given the previous day was what’s known colloquially as “tight arse Tuesday” where exhib slash tix to A$8 ($6).

(Esther de Prado in Spain, Ed Meza in Germany, Liza Klassmann in France, Sheri Jennings in Italy and Michaela Boland in Australia contributed to this report.)

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