‘Zodiac’ hunts for top spot in Europe

Spidey's throne under threat

LONDON — “Spider-Man 3” faces competish at the European box office this weekend from David Fincher’s serial killer thriller “Zodiac.”

“Zodiac” did modest biz at U.S. wickets when it was released in March but will be hoping to open brightly in Europe off the back of its splashy May 17 Cannes launch.

Euro “Zodiac” prospects were boosted by pic stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Chloe Sevigny and Mark Ruffalo joining Fincher on the Croisette to tub thump for the crimer, which opens in Blighty, France, Italy and Spain this frame.

In France, “Zodiac” bowed Wednesday on 332 via WB and was boosted by glowing reviews. Telerama described it as “in many ways a definition of cinema, and of masterful direction,” while Le Parisien called it a “captivating chronicle of an unresolved case.”

Spidey continues to do boffo biz in Gaul. Up to Wednesday, the webslinger had reeled in $42 million, the second best overseas perf after the $51.2 million Blighty running cume.

In the Brit press Fincher expressed surprise at “Zodiac’s” selection for official competition — “It’s an odd choice. It doesn’t seem arty enough,” he told the Guardian.

But the Brit crix are convinced of its craft. ” ‘Zodiac’ is that marvel and rarity, an adult Hollywood murder thriller,” declared Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. And the Times reviewer Wendy Ide described the pic to be “Fincher’s most mature work to date.”

WB sends out “Zodiac” on a fairly wide 228 and bookers predict sturdy biz in London’s West End and key cities. An opening frame of $1.5 million and final cume approaching $6 million is projected by upbeat exhibs.

“Magicians,” the feature debut for popular Brit TV comics David Mitchell and Robert Webb, gets a wide release from Universal. But Brit bookers and reviewers are not convinced the TV stars of “Peep Show” can make the step up to the big screen.

“Raises a few laughs, notably at the end, but is otherwise a bit of a mess … the film progresses in fits and starts toward its conclusion as if expanding a half-hour piece of telly into 90 minutes with more than a hint of strain,” wrote Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard.

Despite the popularity of Mitchell and Webb, Brit bookers will be happy if “Magicians” opens north of $1 million given the failure of recent feature projects involving Brit TV stars, including “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and Ant and Dec starrer “Alien Autopsy.”

In Italy, “Zodiac” opens on 222 and is expected to bump Spidey — in its third frame — from the top spot, despite mostly thumbs-down reviews from the Italo crix.

“Long,” “heavy” and “flat” where the main adjectives used by Rome daily La Repubblica in its critique of “Zodiac,” which warned readers that it doesn’t stack up to Fincher’s celebrated serial killer thriller “Seven.”

Some Italo bookers see FBI thriller “Breach,” toplining Chris Cooper and Laura Linney, out on 157 via Mikado, as likely to score the frame’s best per-screen pull.

Africa-set horror-thriller “Prey” is debuting via Eagle Pictures on 136, with low expectations for the safari-goes-awry pic in one of Italy’s least crowded frames — only four new entries.

The fourth is Italo immigration-themed drama “Io, L’altro” helmed by Rome-based Tunisian director Moshen Melliti and starring Raoul Bova (“Facing Windows”) out on 60 via Fox. Local bookers expect a decent bow as Roman pin-up Bova has a local following.

“Spider-Man 3” is expected to comfortably retain top spot in Germany where there are no big openers bowing this weekend.

Legal thriller “Fracture” starring Anthony Hopkins is the highest-profile Teuton opener and is expected by local exhibs to do solid if unspectacular trade.

The most significant local opener is kids comedy “Herr Bello” from Ben Verbong. The Constantin Film release, which stars Armin Rohde, comes from the team behind “The Slurb” which raked in an impressive $10.4 million on home turf in 2002.

Rwandan genocide drama “Shooting Dogs” opens in Germany to strong reviews but bookers do not feel the difficult subject matter will appeal to mainstream auds.

In Spain, Spidey is expected to once again dominate biz. WB sends out “Zodiac” on 188 to limited expectations.

There is some buzz in Spain for Martha Fiennes’ “Chromophobia” thanks mainly to the fact that ever-popular thesp Penelope Cruz toplines. Eurocine Films releases it on 49 and bookers are hoping for a strong screen average.

Spanish-Argentinean co-production “The Mud Boy,” about a true life serial killer in Buenes Aires in 1912, gets a cautious release on 69 via Filmax. “Boy” stars local thesp Maribel Verdu, whose career took off with “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

Brit pic “The History Boys,” the Fox adaptation of the hit stage show, gets a niche release in Spain.

Additional reporting by Emilio Mayorga (Spain), David Hayhurst (France), Nick Vivarelli (France) and Christian Koehl (Germany).

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