Will ‘Code’ erode?

'X-Men' mythology takes on theology

This weekend, Fox unleashes its only summer tentpole, “X-Men: The Last Stand,” on one of the two most lucrative frames of the season.

Fox has a lot riding on the pic, which has been through much turmoil since Bryan Singer left to direct “Superman Returns” and helmer Matthew Vaughn was replaced by Brett Ratner just two months before the start of shooting.

Tracking is very strong, particularly with young men, but there’s a big roadblock: “The Da Vinci Code.” While “X-Men” will almost certainly come in No. 1, the hit lit adaptation will suck away a chunk of the adult aud and will likely keep “X-Men” from reaching the boffo $85.6 million bow of “X2” three years ago. Fox will be very pleased if it reaches that figure over four days, instead of the three it took “X2.”

“Da Vinci” has had strong weekday grosses, declining from $8.8 million Monday to $5.1 million Wednesday, and was on track to cross $100 million in total grosses Thursday.

Par and DreamWorks Animation are also counting on “Over the Hedge,” which had a somewhat soft $38.5 million bow last weekend, to hold well and draw many adults who saw “Da Vinci” rather than take their kids to the movies. Two years ago, DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek 2,” which also opened the weekend before Memorial Day, declined only 33% on the first three days of the holiday frame.

Fox is opening “Last Stand” at 3,688 theaters, slightly less than the 3,741 for “X2.”

“This is a movie event that will appeal to all audiences,” Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said. “But between ‘Da Vinci’ and ‘Over the Hedge,’ I would only hope that we come close to ‘X2.’ ”

After its all-time No. 1 opening in foreign markets last weekend, “Da Vinci” has a good shot at winning the overseas frame again despite the “X-Men” day-and-date bow at over 10,000 playdates in 95 territories, excluding only four major markets — Japan, where it opens Sept. 9; China, opening July 20; South Korea, launching June 15; and Taiwan, opening June 17.

With the World Cup starting June 9, Fox wanted to get the pic out in most foreign territories before soccer fever steals foreign moviegoers’ attention.

Rivals expect Fox will better the international performances of the previous two pics. Original “X-Men” took in $139 million offshore six years ago; “X2” grossed $192 million internationally in 2003, including a $70 million opening weekend in 72 markets.

Early foreign numbers for “X-Men: The Last Stand” looked promising, led by the French launch, which generated $2.4 million at 756 playdates on Wednesday, nearly double the eighth day of “The Da Vinci Code” with $1.3 million. “X-Men” sold 65,000 tickets in Paris and suburbs, while “Marie Antoinette” sold 27,000 and “Code” has 26,000 in the same Parisian venues.

In Australia, “The Last Stand” launched with $1.1 million at 409 sites on Thursday, 132% better than the “X2” opening. Belgian first-day grosses totaled $201,000 at 100 on Wednesday, 32% higher than “X2.”

Still, “Da Vinci Code” may prevail. Even with a 50% decline in its sophomore sesh, Sony’s thriller would gross $77 million for the frame.

“Code” has grossed an additional $57.3 million overseas during the three weekdays following the weekend for a foreign cume of $212 million as of Wednesday. Worldwide grosses are already past $309 million.

First-week international grosses for “Code” are led by the U.K. with $24.1 million, Germany with $16.2 million, Italy with $15.8 million and France with $13.9 million. Japan’s totaled $19.3 million in its first five days.

With “Code” and the “X-Men” sequel expected to dominate, distribs have limited other foreign openings to a few targeted markets such as “Curious George” in the U.K. and Germany, “Last Holiday” in Australia and “The Wild” in the U.K.

In limited release, only major bow is Al Gore global warming pic “An Inconvenient Truth.” Par Classics is opening the well-reviewed docu at four playdates in Gotham and L.A. With major publicity thanks to Gore, pic will likely perform very well.

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