‘Gangster’ slays ‘Beowulf’ overseas

Cop drama grosses $14.5 million

Director Robert Zemeckis’ 3-D epic “Beowulf” may have howled its way to becoming international market leader over the Nov. 16-18 frame, but it was a mobster and a cop who seemed to steal moviegoers’ hearts.

In its aggressive day-and-date launch, “Beowulf,” made with motion-capture animation, grossed an estimated $17 million from 2,500 playdates in 13 markets. The Paramount-Shangri La Entertainment film is being distributed by Warner Bros. Intl. abroad.

“Beowulf,” however, didn’t carry any major territory, losing out to Universal’s Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe starrer “American Gangster,” which played in far fewer runs.

“Gangster,” directed by Ridley Scott, grossed an estimated $14.5 million from 1,471 playdates, coming in No. 2 internationally.

Race between the two was particular fierce in Europe.

“Gangster” took top spot in the U.K. with a muscular $5.3 million at 410 screens. It also boasted the best screen average — $12,913 — of any movie in the top 15.

“Beowulf” also hit the ground running in Blighty, taking second spot with $4.5 million, including $392,315 in previews, in 454 locations.

The appearance of Angelina Jolie — one of the voice stars of “Beowulf” — and Brad Pitt at the Nov. 11 European premiere in London helped build buzz for the bloodthirsty rendition of an Old English tale. Pic’s co-stars Ray Winstone and Anthony Hopkins also walked the red carpet.

In Germany, “Beowulf” was no match for Harlem’s top pusher. U’s “American Gangster” shot its way to No. 1, pulling in $2.9 million from 367 and garnering an outstanding per-location average of $7,766.

Coming in second, Warner’s “Beowulf” take of $2.1 million from 698 was only so-so.

“It’s not a style of animation that appeals to everyone,” noted one local exhib. “While movies like ‘Ice Age’ and ‘Shrek’ offer laughs and gags, for a lot of people, ‘Beowulf’ just comes across like a fancy computer game.”

Largely negative reviews didn’t help: “Even the movements don’t look natural. From a technical aspect, ‘Beowulf’ lags behind the pioneering work of ‘Final Fantasy’ and ‘Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,’ ” wrote newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, while Die Welt wrote: “Instead of people, you have animated dolls with the facial expressions of death masks. Even the flashy 3-D effects — things are constantly flying at the camera — can’t detract from that.”

Indeed, most moviegoers and critics preferred the gritty 1970s realism of Ridley Scott’s crime drama.

In the U.K., the punchy openings by “Gangster” and “Beowulf” helped push overall biz up 12% vs. the same weekend last year. They also forced Tom Cruise-Meryl Streep-Robert Redford political drama “Lions for Lambs” to struggle badly in its soph sesh, both in the U.K. and elsewhere.

“Lions,” directed by Redford, grossed a meek $5.7 million at 2,700 runs in 53 markets in its soph sesh, coming in No. 5 internationally for the frame. In the U.K., grosses slid a whopping 61% to $525,000 for a cume of $19.7 million. “Lions” continued to enjoy its biggest numbers in Spain, where the UA film added $1.3 million, for a cume of $4 million.

Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille” may have fallen off the top 5 chart internationally over the Nov. 16-18 frame, but the toon passed a historic milestone over the weekend, crossing the $600 million mark at the worldwide box office.

“Ratatouille” has cumed $396.5 milion overseas, far outpacing expectations, and has become the second-biggest Pixar grosser overseas after “Finding Nemo,” which made roughly $524 million abroad. Set in Paris, “Ratatouille” has been a runaway hit in France. Pic also touts the biggest worldwide gross of 2007 for a non-sequel.

Eros Intl. also had news to celebrate with Bollywood title “Om Shanti Om,” which grossed $19 million in its first 10 days, making it the most successful opening in Indian cinema history. Of that, pic earned $13.5 million in India, marking the best opening ever for that country. It made better than $1.5 million in the U.K., and another $2 million in the U.S.

Coming in No. 3 overseas for the Nov. 16-18 weekend was DreamWorks-Paramount’s Ben Stiller laffer “The Heartbreak Kid,” which yukked its way to $7.1 million from 1,856 runs in 37 markets for an international cume of $51.5 million. That makes the raunchy comedy more successful overseas than in the U.S., where it has grossed roughly $36 million.

Like “Heartbreak,” Universal-Working Title’s “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is finding audiences abroad more receptive than moviegoers Stateside. Sequel, returning Cate Blanchett to the bigscreen as the legendary monarch, grossed $6 million at 1,590 in 13 markets over the Nov. 16-18 weekend for a cume of $22 million.

“Elizabeth” enjoyed first-place launches in Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the Ukraine. Pic has grossed just $16.1 million domestically, but abroad, it has a shot at matching the $52 million cume for “Elizabeth,” released in 1998.

Adam Dawtrey in England, Ed Meza in German, John Hopewell in Spain, Nick Vivarelli in Italy and David Hayhurst in France contributed to this report.

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