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‘Arthur’ gains momentum in U.K.

'Museum' closure helps Besson fantasy to blossom

LONDON — The decision by the U.K.’s top exhibition chains to pull “Night at the Museum” shook up the U.K. box office this weekend.

The move, a protest at Fox’s plan to release the DVD just 97 days after its theatrical launch, mainly benefited Luc Besson’s family-friendly fantasy “Arthur and the Invisibles.”

Making the most of the gap in the market, the pic banked $2.3 million at 391 for Momentum Pictures — “the best possible result it could have attained,” according to one London-based booker. “Invisibles” shrugged off negative reviews from the Brit crix.

In its first outing outside North America, “Notes on a Scandal” cashed in on rave reviews from the Brit crix to score $2.2 mil-lion at 300 (including $204,061 for previews) and land fourth spot.

The Oscar noms for Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett and the popularity of the Zoe Heller book the film is based on helped build pre-release buzz.

The strong bow was particularly impressive given that there is plenty of other fare on offer aimed at sophisticated auds such as “Babel” and “The Last King of Scotland.”

Paramount’s opener “Dreamgirls” clicked with Brit auds better than it has elsewhere in Europe, taking top spot with $2.6 mil-lion (including hefty $402,630 previews) at 270.

The musical, which boasts a leading eight Academy Award noms, posted a chart-topping screen average of $9,645.

The decent “Dreamgirls” bow was in line with Brit bookers expectations. Brit auds display a relative fondness for Hollywood musicals. This is not the case in Germany, Italy and Spain, where “Dreamgirls” has made little impact.

“Dreamgirls,” “Scandal” and “Invisibles” — all quick out of the blocks — landed three of the top four positions. Second-placed “Blood Diamond” slipped just 19% in its soph sesh to give it a $6.9 million running cume. The Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer is benefiting from excellent word of mouth.

Fellow Oscars-contender “Babel” is on the wane; it slipped 37% in its third frame despite going out on 110 fewer screens than “Diamond.”

Homegrown fave “The Wild Soccer Bunch 4” stormed to the top of the charts in Germany, netting $4.3 million at 706. The result marks the biggest opening in the history of BVI’s hugely popular franchise about the adventures of a motley team of soccer “warriors.”

The big bow helped German box office biz leap up 50% on the previous weekend.

But it was not all good news for homegrown Teuton fare. Local exhibs were taken by surprise by the failure of “The Wild Life,” Warner’s local biopic of hippie sex icon Uschi Obermaier. A massive publicity campaign and heavy press coverage did little to attract auds; pic opened at number 12 with $351,012 from 132. One local exhib attributed the soft debut to the fact that Obermaier “is a local legend, but for young moviegoers today, she’s very much an unknown.”

Lionsgate’s horror pic “Saw III” took Teuton bookers by surprise with a strong opening frame of $3.2 million at 436 — the best result in the history of the franchise in Germany. “The ‘Saw’ films have become a cult franchise and very successful on DVD, so they have a strong following,” noted one exhib, adding that usually squeamish Teutons traditionally preferred to watch gory horror pics at home.

One exhib suggested that after recent dramas such as “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Blood Diamond,” which lie third and fourth, respectively, younger auds were eager for more popcorn fare.

As expected, Teutonic auds turned a deaf ear to “Dreamgirls,” which faced the same uphill battle that has dogged other Hollywood musicals in Germany; pic generated $881,195 from 217.

In Italy, “Dreamgirls” plunged 71% in its second weekend to $107,000 on 98 for a $600,000 total to date. It fared no better in Spain where it nosedived 49% in its soph sesh.

“Night at the Museum” encountered few problems in its Italian bow, taking a boffo $4.7 million at 471 and ousting popular local laffer “Manual of Love 2” from top spot.

Filmauro release “Manual of Love 2” dipped 52% in its third frame to $2.7 million at 494 for an impressive $21 million running cume — passing the $16.7 million final cume posted by the original.

The 52% third frame dropoff was expected given the arrival of comedy rival “Museum.”

Local helmer Pupi Avati’s comedy “La Cena per farli conoscere,” packed with local female stars Francesca Neri, Violante Placido, Vanessa Incontrada and Ines Sastre bowed at number four pulling $1.4 million on 262.

“Blood Diamond” took top spot in France ahead of fellow opener “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Multiplying the admissions figures by the average ticket price of $7.66, the Leonardo DiCaprio pic took $2.6 million at 459 in its first five days. Reviews were strong and the film sparked a discussion about the origin of conflict diamonds in Le Monde and Liberation.

“Happyness” raced to $2.3 million at 322 in its first five days via distrib GCT. The boffo $6,932 screen average was the best in the top 10.

Homegrown fare continues to do strong trade in Gaul. Wildbunch release “Moliere,” a costume drama starring Gallic pin up Romain Duris (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped”) as the titular French 17th-century playwright, took third spot with $2 million at 465 in its first five days. Gerard Jugnot-starrer “Treasured Island” was next best with $1.8 million at 588 via Bac.

In Spain, biz was dominated by Yank product, led by the second frame of “Night at the Museum” and the debut of “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Local release “Miguel and William” flopped, taking $196,598 at 175 for a paltry screen average of $1,150.

Paul Verhoeven’s Dutch-language war epic “Black Book” did make some impression. The Manga release clocked $288,793 at 82 for a promising screen average of $3,751 and Spanish bookers are preparing to give it a decent run.

Additional reporting by Alison James (France), Ed Meza (Germany), Gorka Bilbao (Spain) and Nick Vivarelli (Italy).

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