German rebels rock box office

'Arthur' has U.K. kids' market to itself

LONDON — A pair of pics about rebellious youth are promising to run amok at the top of the German charts this weekend. In Blighty, meanwhile, “Arthur and the Invisibles” hopes to fill the gap left by “Night at the Museum,” which has been yanked by rebellious exhibs.

Warner’s “The Wild Life,” which chronicles the life of Uschi Obermaier, a model and hippie commune member who became the embodiment of sexual freedom in 1960s Germany, looks likely to generate plenty of interest this weekend.

Obermaier remains a celebrity in Germany and has been the focus of tabloids and TV talkshows in the runup to the release of the pic, which recently enjoyed a glitzy premiere in Munich.

Achim Bornhak’s pic stars up-and-coming thesp Natalie Avelon as Obermaier, Victor Noren, singer of the Swedish rock band Sugarplum Fairy, as Mick Jagger (one of Obermaier’s many conquests), and popular young actor Matthias Schweighoefer.

BVI’s “The Wild Soccer Bunch 4” is the latest installment in what has become a hugely successful franchise following a mot-ley team of unruly teen soccer players.

The boffo perf by World Cup soccer doc “Deutschland: Ein sommermarchen,” which cumed over $20 million in Germany last year, demonstrates the popularity of soccer at the cinema in the territory and bodes well for “Bunch 4.”

Bookers expect both “The Wild Life” and “Bunch 4” to comfortably clear the $1 million mark in their opening weekend and feature prominently at the top end of the charts.

Despite its leading eight Oscar noms, “Dreamgirls” faces a struggle for auds in Germany. As in Italy and Spain, where the pic bowed only so-so last weekend, “Dreamgirls” is disadvantaged by the fact that musicals do not usually excite German cinemagoers much.

Also opening this weekend in Germany is Chris Kraus’ critically acclaimed “Four Minutes,” about an elderly piano teacher who trains a talented young convict at a women’s penitentiary. Piffl is releasing the pic.

The main beneficiary of the decision made by the U.K.’s top chains to pull “Museum” from theaters, incensed by Fox’s plan to break the window between theatrical and DVD, should be “Arthur and the Invisibles.” Momentum releases the Luc Besson pic on 390 screens.

With “Museum” banished, family fare is thin on the ground — only “Eragon” and “Flushed Away,” both of which are fading fast, offer any real competish to “Arthur.”

The gap left in the market is sizeable. Last weekend, the Ben Stiller laffer slipped just 18% in its fifth frame to take $2.3 million at 458 for a running cume of $39.4 million.

Sophisticated fare aimed at upmarket auds, such as “The Last King of Scotland” and “Babel,” has been working well throughout January in Blighty and exhibs expect Fox’s opener “Notes on a Scandal” to continue the good run of form for arthouse pics this weekend. The release reps the pic’s first outing outside North America.

The Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett-starrer gets a helping hand from the crix who have been rapturous in their applause. “Last year was great for British cinema; with films like this on the horizon, 2007 is shaping up very nicely too,” wrote Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian.

Paramount sends out “Dreamgirls” on a midsize 250 in the U.K. and local exhibs are quietly confident that it will play well.

The pic’s leading eight Oscar noms have built good pre-release buzz and, unlike in Spain and Italy, Brit auds have shown an appetite for Hollywood musicals, such as “Chicago,” in the past.

Reviews for “Dreamgirls” have been mixed. “Dreamgirls is a solid success in most departments — great costumes, snappy editing, a beefy sound mix — but only in two or three numbers does it manage the concentrated sugar rush of the best showbiz musicals,” wrote Tim Robey in the Daily Telegraph.

“Museum” might be off the menu in the U.K. but, in Italy, local bookers expect it to open big and challenge local laffer “Manual of Love 2” for the top spot.

Filmauro’s pic has raced to $17 million in its first fortnight but faces a real challenge this weekend from “Museum,” which Fox release on 535. Ben Stiller has a following in Italy and tradesters are hoping for a $4 million opening.

Box office business has been strong in Italy in 2007 thanks largely to the big numbers posted by “Love 2” and a good run by Medusa Films’ “The Pursuit of Happyness,” which has grossed $15 million in its first three weeks.

“The Pursuit of Happyness” is the highest profile opener in Spain, going out on 286 via Sony. Local exhibs are upbeat about its prospects but do not expect a boffo bow.

Local pic “Miguel and William,” about a fictional meeting between Cervantes and Shakespeare, goes out on 175 through WB. Local bookers are skeptical about the film’s prospects given the recent poor results for homegrown fare in Spain.

(Additional reporting by Ed Meza (Germany), Bernhard Warner (Italy), and Gorka Bilbao (Spain).

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