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‘Lions’ more like a lamb overseas

Bollywood titles top Tom Cruise starrer

Mission: Difficult.

After rising to become one of the top-grossing American stars overseas, Tom Cruise’s latest entry, “Lions for Lambs,” failed to see big opening numbers at the international box office over the Nov. 9-11 frame.

“Lions” — directed by Robert Redford, and a marked departure from the blockbuster titles Cruise has come to be known for — came in No. 3 at int’l wickets, losing out to a pair of Bollywood titles, “Om Shanti Om” and musical “Saawariya.”

Also starring Meryl Streep and Redford, “Lions” grossed $10.3 million while opening day-and-date in 45 foreign markets, or 12 of the 16 top territories. Pic didn’t win any of its major markets and, at $2.3 million, had its best showing in Spain.

“Lions” proved tough subject matter for international moviegoers, just as it did for auds in North America, where it opened to a disappointing $6.7 million.

Film tells the story of a rightwing congressman who tries to justify a covert military operation in Afghanistan to a top journalist. A second storyline follows a university professor who had taught two of the young men at the center of the special forces mission.

Conversely, international moviegoers reveled in the entertainment provided by the rival Bollywood films, which took advantage of the Diwali holiday in India.

By some estimates, “Om Shanti Om” was the market leader for the Nov. 9-11 weekend, grossing roughly $17 million, primarily in India.

In the U.K., “Om Shanti Om” delivered on the pre-release hype with a whammo bow of $1.1 million at just 52 for a chart-topping screen average of $20,563. Film received its world premiere in London Nov. 8.

Sandjay Leela Bhansali’s “Saawariya,” from Sony and Eros, grossed $13.3 million at 754 engagements.

Perf of “Om,” “Saawariya” and “Lions” combined to knock Disney-Pixar toon “Ratatouille” out of the No. 1 spot internationally after a lengthy run as market leader. “Ratatouille” grossed $9.3 million over the Nov. 9-11 frame for a foreign cume of $388.6 million.

Coming in No. 5 for the weekend was DreamWorks-Paramount laffer “The Heartbreak Kid,” which grossed $8.7 million, upping its international cume to $41.2 million.

“Lions” is the first release from the revived United Artists label under the leadership of Cruise and producing partner Paula Wagner, who exited their 14-year deal at Par last year.

Cruise’s last film, “Mission: Impossible III,” grossed $263.8 million internationally — nearly double its domestic cume of $134 million, underscoring his popularity among overseas auds.

Whether “Lions” is an aberration or a trend remains to be seen.

Cruise’s next film is “Valkyrie,” about a failed plot among German officers to assassinate Hitler. Those familiar with “Valkyrie,” directed by Bryan Singer for UA, say it has more broad appeal than “Lions.”

Cruise and Redford’s dogged tubthumping in London and Berlin could not prevent soft bows for “Lions” in the U.K. and Germany. In the U.K., the pic 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.

“We went in expecting the worst and pretty much got it,” a London-based booker says.

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

Selling the political “Lambs” as a star vehicle, Fox Spain netted a first weekend $2.3 million off 359, including Thursday previews, for a $6,009 per-copy average. Result was at the high end of most exhib expectations, and one of the best major territory perfs in Europe.

“Star power still works very well in Spain,” one booker says. “People wanted to see Cruise, Redford and Streep.”

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. We had quite a lot of walkouts in outer-city multiplexes,” the booker continues, reporting that inner-city biz was more solid.

David Hayhurst in France, John Hopewell in Spain, Ed Meza in Germany and Nick Vivarelli in Italy contributed to this report.

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