Hollywood hits lift Euro box office

'Gangster,' 'Beowulf' still capturing auds

BERLIN — Harlem gangsters, a fairytale princess and Viking heroes are buoying the otherwise lethargic box office in much of Europe as “American Gangster” defended its turf against “Beowulf” in the U.K. and Germany, and “Enchanted” cast a spell over Spain, while in Italian cinemas, local hits continued to soar.

In one of the only two major territory head-to-heads between bows of “Enchanted” and “Beowulf,” Disney’s big Christmas-bet just beat out the WB-distribbed animated epic.

While “Beowulf” slew “Enchanted” in Russia, in Spain “Enchanted” charmed more, grossing $3.3 million off 366 to $3.1 million from 443 prints for “Beowulf.”

“Both results are O.K., though Disney hasn’t got a huge Christmas hit on in its hands in Spain, and ‘Beowulf,’ as its U.S. bow suggested, isn’t a ‘300,’” said one exhibition exec.

On the upside, “Beowulf’s” bow bettered first frame returns in Germany and Italy a week ago and confirmed the prospect of hiked returns at Spanish digital screens for animated action fare.

According to Fernando Evole, deputy general manager at Yelmo Cineplex, pic’s B.O. split in Jerez, where Yelmo Cineplex played it on a digital 3-D screen and a normal screen, was 80%-20% in favor of the digital site.

“Playing to the same youth demos, Spanish horror pic ‘REC’ probably ate some of ‘Beowulf’s’ lunch,” exhib added.

Helmed by Jaume Balaguero (“Darkness”) and Paco Plaza (“Romasanta”), “REC” grossed $2.2 million off 263 copies, the second best bow for any Spanish film this year, just bettered by “The Orphanage.”

An urban zombie pic, and satire of TV scoop reportage whatever the cost, “REC” played off spectators interest in Spanish horror movies, demonstrated by “The Orphanage,” as well as an excellent reception at the Sitges fest and a good campaign by producer-distributor Filmax. (Screen Gems is producing an English-language remake of “REC” in the U.S.)

“American Gangster” has held off the medieval antics of “Beowulf” to keep its grip on the top spot at the U.K. box office in its sophomore frame, bringing in $3.7 million. The Ridley Scott-helmed crime epic has grossed $11.8 million so far.

Robert Zemeckis’ CGI fest “Beowulf” had to be content with second spot for the second week in a row, adding $3 million to its coffers, which have so far swelled to $9.3 million.

The biggest surprise of the week was probably the failure of Paramount’s Jude Law, Michael Caine starrer “Sleuth” to break into the top 10. The Harold Pinter penned remake of the 1972 psychological thriller, which also starred Caine, only bowed in 11th place, bringing in $340,000 off 146 playdates.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” said Par international prexy Andrew Cripps. “Jude Law, Michael Caine and Ken Branagh all did a great job publicizing the film, but we have to face the fact that the film was geared toward an older audience who don’t necessarily rush to see a film in the cinema on its opening weekend. We’re hoping the film will stay around and get good word of mouth.”

Par execs can take some comfort from the strong performance of the Matthew Vaughn-helmed fantasy tale “Stardust.” Pic only dropped 19% in its sixth frame, bringing in $1.5 million toward a running total of $28 million.

Other debutantes at the Blighty box office included Fox’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” which grossed $900,000 from 192; Entertainment’s “August Rush,” which grossed $744,000 off 337; and Vertigo’s “Shrooms,” which bowed to $650,000 off 199.

A lack of new heavy hitters in Germany allowed “American Gangster” to remain at the top of the charts with $2 million toward its $5.8 million cume, dropping only 28% in its second frame.

“Beowulf” dropped 34.6% to $1.4 million on its way to a $4.1 million total.

Overall, Germany’s box office fell 19% in view of the lack of major titles.

At number three was “The Heartbreak Kid,” which continues to do surprisingly well, taking in $1.2 million toward a healthy $10 million cume.

Constantin’s local CGI hit “Lissi” was down to number four, garnering $1.1 million for a running total of $18.8 million in its fifth session, while “Ratatouille” took in an additional $951,990 toward a $47.2 million cume.

In its third frame, “The Three Investigators” dropped 25%, grossing $906,615 toward a $4.5 million total.

Vanessa Jopp’s family comedy “Meine schoene Bescherung” opened at number seven with $767,256 from 215 via X Verleih/Warner, while Warner’s political drama “Rendition,” the only other new entry in the top 10, opened in ninth with $412,879 from 205.

In Italy, local pics continued to rule the roost, with lusty laffer “Wedding at the Bahamas” holding on to the top spot in its second frame, followed by Mafia actioner “Milano-Palermo: The Return,” which bowed at number two.

“Bahamas,” driven by popular comic Massimo Boldi, slid just 24% for a balmy $3.5 million from 461 tallying a $9.2 million running cume via Medusa.

“Milano-Palermo: The Return,” toplining Giancarlo Giannini, did killer biz, opening at $2 million off 246, via Buena Vista International, which also co-produced. The weekend saw five Italo pics in the top 10, confirming the ongoing momentum for homegrown fare.

Still, it was Stephen King adaptation “1408,” starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, which scored the frame’s highest screen average, scaring up $8,760 per engagement, for $1.9 million off 224 via Lucky Red.

Meanwhile, “Beowulf” dropped 47% in its second frame for a modest $1.1 million on 325 via Warner Bros., and a $2.16 million running cume.

Italo comedy “Lessons in Chocolate,” from the Cattleya stable, bowed so-so, at number seven with $938,000 from 203 via Universal.

In the arthouse arena, Julie Taymor’s Beatles-inspired musical “Across the Universe” opened at $231,000 from 77 via Sony, while philosophical Gallic thriller “Conversations with My Gardener,” pulled $112,000 from 29 via BIM.

While the 10-day transit shutdowns in Gaul didn’t have much box office impact whatsoever, not all distribbers are happy with recent results. A first-five-day take of $2.3 million on 197 for “Saw IV” was enough to give Metropolitan the top weekly spot. Alas, this represents a bow of almost 35% lower than last year’s third installment in the gorefest franchise over the same period.

Off 40% in its second frame “American Gangster” has proved a winner for Paramount, cuming $6.4 million on 364 for Paramount. Local romantic comedy “Ce soir, je dors chez toi” toplining Jean-Paul Rouve and Melanie Doutey looks a winner for StudioCanal when compared with a host of French-made flops in the genre of late. Its first five days earned $2 million on 273.

“Beowulf” looks rather unlikely to match its success in other overseas markets in Gaul. Making Warners $1.9 million on 481 after five days, many scribes dissed the CGI-heavy epic as a tad too gimmicky.

In fifth spot, off-the-wall local laffer “Les deux mondes” is performing reasonably well for Gaumont.

Helmed by Daniel Cohen, the tale of a regular Joe who finds himself a god in a parallel dimension, took in $1.8 million in five days on 471.

“Lions for Lambs” was a letdown for Fox. Met with some positive, but mainly humdrum reviews, it took in only $1.4 million on 390 after five days.

Additional reporting by John Hopewell (Spain), Nick Vivarelli (Italy), David Hayhurst (France) and Ali Jaafar (U.K.).

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