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‘Compass’ on top overseas

Fantasy films typically play internationally

Big-budget epic “The Golden Compass” made far more coin in its international debut than Stateside, further evidence that fantasy as a genre is in full bloom overseas.

“Compass,” based on the young-adult book trilogy by Brit author Philip Pullman, grossed $50.9 million at 5,000 runs in 25 territories in its day-and-day debut. Pic easily came in No. 1 internationally for the Dec. 7-9 frame.

Tentpole, from New Line, didn’t fare as well domestically, opening at $25.8 million and coming in below expectations. “Compass,” directed by Chris Weitz, stars Dakota Blue Richards, Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.

“Compass” cost upward of $180 million to produce, although New Line laid off some of its risk by selling off international rights.

Europeans showed they knew how to find the pic.

“Compass” opened strongest in its native U.K., where it rustled up a boffo $14.8 million (including $3.2 million in Wednesday-Thursday previews) at 507 screens via Entertainment Film Distributors.

Result was north of local bookers’ estimations and follows the recent success of homegrown family fantasy film “Stardust” ($30 million to date in the U.K. alone).

“Stardust,” from Paramount, has grossed far more internationally than in the U.S., bringing in $95.6 million overseas compared with $38.4 million domestic.

The big “Compass” debut helped power overall U.K. biz up 46% on the previous frame.

In Spain, Tripictures-distributed “Compass” notched a standout performance, grossing $8 million over five days from 498 copies for a strong $10,311 average. Punchy bow was not far behind that of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in Spain two years ago. Bowing in a similar extended weekend December slot to “Compass,” “Narnia” grossed $8.9 million in 2005.

Despite the strong start for “Compass,” “the jury’s out on its legs,” says a Spanish booker. “It can’t be compared with ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ Audiences are eager to find something similar, but they will soon realize that ‘Compass’ is not on par with it.”

In France, “Compass” opened with the wind in its sails. Pic took $6.2 million on 767 via Metropolitan in its first five days.

“We had pretty high hopes, which have been fulfilled,” says Paul Robert, Metropolitan’s head of programming.

In Germany, “Compass” also set a course to the top of the charts, where the pic helped boost the overall box office by 19%. Yet its $4.8 million opening weekend take (from 836 locations) was a lot closer to the $4.3 million reported by last year’s family fantasy “Eragon” than this year’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” which took in a whopping $21 million.

“Eragon,” from Fox, was another fantasy pic that did more biz overseas, grossing $174.3 million abroad and roughly $75 million domestically.

Coming in No. 2 internationally for the Dec. 7-9 weekend was Disney’s princess tale “Enchanted,” which continued to perform merrily in its third frame. Film grossed $11.6 million from 2,594 runs in 18 markets, led by its second French frame. Pic, still early in its rollout, grossed $36.4 million internationally through Dec. 9.

Family friendly “Bee Movie” took No. 3 for the weekend internationally in its sixth frame, grossing $10.9 million from 2,050 runs in 21 territories, led by an Oz launch of $2.8 million and a Spanish soph sesh of $2.4 million, down only 14%. “Bee,” which has cumed $33.5 million, rolls out next in France, Germany and the U.K.

In Spain, “Bee Movie” slipped a very respectable 20% in its sophomore sesh for a $6.4 million take. Strong Spanish perf bodes well for the toon’s upcoming European run.

Placing No. 4 and No. 5 internationally for the Dec. 7-9 frame were Warners’ 3-D epic “Beowulf” and 20th Century Fox’s bigscreen vidgame adaptation “Hitman.”

“Beowulf” grossed $9.1 million from 5,000 playdates in its fourth frame for a healthy foreign cume of $91.5 million. “Hitman” also showed solid legs in its third frame, killing off $8.2 million from 2,586 runs for a foreign gross of $24.5 million.

In Italy — the only major Euro territory where “Compass” did not launch — fairytale fantasy “Enchanted” delivered a promising debut, dislodging local toon “Winx Club — The Secret of the Lost Kingdom” from the top spot.

The Disney musical romancer pulled $3.3 million from 404, for a lovely $8,000 per-screen average, in line with expectations.

“Hitman” bowed solidly in Italy at No. 4, with $1.1 million off 224 playdates. Pic was the Italo frame’s only other mainstream opener, besides “Enchanted.”

Among more specialized Hollywood fare, Warners’ “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” — also released by WB — held better in Italy than in the U.K. The Brad Pitt-Casey Affleck starrer is proving popular with arthouse auds, and fell 33% in its second frame for an $834,784 take.

In France, Joaquin Phoenix-Mark Ruffalo starrer “We Own the Night” has proved a darkhorse winner for Wild Bunch. Off only 33% in its second frame, the Cannes competish title has cumed a cool $3.6 million on 249.

“We are very happy. It’s been considered one of the best releases of the year by many French critics. We’ve had already over 400,000 viewers and we’re forecasting at least 800,000,” says Jean-Philippe Tirel, Wild Bunch general manager for distribution.

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

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