‘Lions’ meek after Euro mauling

Fox pic finds solace in Spanish returns

LONDON — Wounded by a mauling from European crix, “Lions for Lambs” opened with a whimper not a growl at Euro wickets this weekend.

Cruise and Redford’s dogged tub thumping in London and Berlin could not prevent soft bows in the U.K. and Germany. A bright opening in Spain helped soften the blow for Fox brass.

In the U.K., “Lions for Lambs” opened lamely, taking $1.4 million at 404 screens for Fox. The haul left “Lambs” floundering in sixth place with a $3,361 screen average. Savage reviews dealt the talky political drama a big blow.

” ‘Lions for Lambs’ met low expectations. We went in expecting the worst and pretty much got it,” said a London-based booker.

Raunchy U.S. comedy “Good Luck Chuck” claimed top spot with $2.7 million (including $250,413 in previews) at 379 for Lionsgate U.K.

Upbeat “Chuck” opening follows the success of other risque Yank laffers “Superbad” and “Knocked Up” in Blighty.

Eros International’s Shah Rukh Khan starrer “Om Shanti Om” delivered on the pre-release hype and some with a whammo bow of $1.1 million at just 52 for a chart-topping screen average of $20,563. The pic, released to chime with the Diwali holiday, received its world premiere in London Nov. 8.

Rival Bollywood release “Saawariya” also opened well if not quite so impressively. The Sanjay Leela Bhansali helmed pic danced its way to $331,760 at 48 for Sony.

Sean Penn’s pensive coming-of-ager “Into the Wild” connected with upmarket auds. The well-reviewed pic, which toplines little-known Emile Hirsch, raised a decent $405,997 at 84 for Par.

Best of the holdovers was Matthew Vaughn’s fantasy epic “Stardust,” which continues to show athletic legs. It dropped just 10% in its fourth frame to move the cume to $23.4 million. Exhibs report it is playing well throughout the day and in the evening, suggesting it has widespread appeal to Brit auds.

Disney/Pixar animated rat pic “Ratatouille” keeps on cooking in the U.K. It dipped just 19% in its fifth frame for an impressive running cume of $45 million.

Impressive holdovers are partly attributable to fact that Bonfire Night parties depressed biz over the previous Nov. 2-4 weekend frame.

Not every flick retained auds.

“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” dropped 31% in its soph sesh following a soft bow. Cate Blanchett starrer has now collected $6.5 million for Universal.

Plummeting fast is Entertainment’s Middle East drama “Rendition,” which lost 46% of its screens and 60% of its trade in its fourth frame. Cume stands at $5 million.

In Italy, teen romancer “Come tu mi vuoi,” driven by local heartthrobs Nicolas Vaporidis and Cristiana Capotondi, won the buoyant frame debuting at number one ahead of Ben Stiller starrer “The Heartbreak Kid.”

“Come tu mi vuoi” (As You Want Me), about an ugly duckling who morphs into a hot young woman as she becomes entangled with a spoiled brat, drew $3.2 million on 347 via Medusa.

Local love tale confirmed the pull of the thesping pair whose previous title together, “Night Before Exams,” scored more than $17 million in 2006. It also bodes well for “Come tu” helmer Volfango De Biasi, a first-timer who also penned.

“The Heartbreak Kid” still had a hearty Italo bow at number two with $2.7 million off 293, reaping a $9,215 screen-average, the Italo frame’s highest for the Farrelly Brothers comedy via Universal.

Meanwhile “Ratatouille” dropped 48% in its fourth frame to $1.7 million on 411 and a $23 million running cume.

Italy’s other big opener, historical drama “I Vicere” by Roberto Faenza, bowed at number eight with $646,000 off 187, in line with modest expectations, via 01 Distribuzione.

“Sleuth,” starring Michael Caine and Jude Law in the remake of the Joseph L. Mankiewicz classic, opened so-so with $229,000 off 63 via Sony, following its Venice launch.

Cannes standout “The Edge of Heaven” also opened slow with $153,000 on 47 via BIM.

The definite flop in Italy’s art houses was Hector Babenco’s “The Past,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal, which drew a mere $18,000 off 21, via Mikado.

That said, weekend grosses were up 9% compared with the previous frame for a $13.8 million total take.

Snow storms throughout much of the country and a lack of new blockbuster titles resulted in a sharp 21% drop at the German box office.

Constantin’s local animated laffer “Lissi” remained at number one for the third week running but pic suffered a 48% drop in ticket sales, garnering $2.4 million toward a $14.9 million cume.

Proving more popular among Teutonic auds than American viewers, Universal’s “The Heartbreak Kid” proved resolute in its second session, replacing “Ratatouille” in the number two spot with $2.3 million toward a $6.3 million total.

At number three, “Ratatouille” took in $1.9 million on its way to a $43.6 million cume.

Among the week’s new entries, Disney’s kid caper “The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island” trumped Universal’s “Atonement” and Robert Redford’s “Lions for Lambs,” grossing $1.8 million from 540.

At number five, Joe Wright’s “Atonement” took in $1.03 million from 229, giving it an impressive per-location average of $4,367.

Fox’s “Lions for Lambs” followed close behind with $1.01 million from 300.

“Lambs” poor showing was in line with expectations from local exhibs, who has predicted the U.S. political drama would generate scant interest among local auds despite its high-caliber cast.

Concorde’s “30 Days of Night” opened at number seven with $757,739 from 262.

X Verleih’s Israeli-set “Liebesleben” (“Love Life”), Maria Schrader’s drama about the obsessive romance between a young married woman and an older man, opened in 10th with $229,925 from 78.

One of the only major territories where “Lions for Lambs” had anything like a satisfactory performance was Spain where “Lambs” was just pipped for the No. 1 spot by “The Orphanage” — top pic in Spain for the fifth weekend running.

Selling the political drama as a star vehicle, Fox netted a first weekend $2.2 million off 359, including Thursday previews, for a $6,009 copy average. Result was at the high end of most exhibitor expectations, and one of the best major territory perfs in Europe.

Several factors are at play to explain solid performance. “Star power still works very well in Spain. People wanted to see Cruise, Redford and Streep,” said one booker.

Newspaper readership is relatively low in Spain. “Many cinemagoers probably didn’t realize the kind of film they were going to see, that it’s so talky. And it’s not that good a film. We had quite a lot of walkouts in outer-city multiplexes,” the booker added, reporting that inner-city biz was more solid.

Exhibition execs expect a major soph sesh fall. “Word-of-mouth’s not good. The film was dropping off even over the weekend,” one said.

Nov. 9-11 saw another further positive payback for positioning: an opening of $615,920 for the WB-distributed “Suso’s Tower.”

“Tower,” a small Spanish pic marking the feature film debut of Tom Fernandez, went out on a relatively large print run of 210 copies for a promising $3,710 average.

” ‘Tower’ played at good multiplexes. The presence of actor Fernando Camara, a sitcom star, means that a lot of people think it’s going to be a comedy. It’s not quite that, but it is a warm film about friendship, and word-of-mouth is good,” a booker said.

“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” also bettered expectations in Spain, grossing $887,989 off 179 for UPI.

In France, David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” took top spot in its first five days, with a take of $2.3 million on 285 via Metropolitan. Russian gangster drama, which stars leading Gallic thesp Vincent Cassel as a ruthless, drunken mobster struggling to meet his father’s expectations, opened stronger than Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” (2005), which was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

“In the Valley of Elah” also bowed brightly taking $1.4 million on 323 in its first five days for WB.

Additional reporting by David Hayhurst (France), John Hopewell (Spain), Ed Meza (Germany), and Nick Vivarelli (Italy).

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