'Shrek' set for good weekend in Blighty

BERLIN — Hollywood tentpoles will again dominate the European box office this weekend with “Live Free or Die Hard” exploding on German theaters, “Transformers” invading Italy and “Shrek the Third” continuing its domination in major territories.

Bruce Willis is set to go all yippee kay aye on Universal’s favorite ogre, as “Live Free or Die Hard” takes on current box office champ “Shrek the Third” in Germany.

Opening with a one-day headstart day and date release on 860, “Die Hard” made some $2.5 million in its first two days according to early estimates.

Local exhibs reckon pic will best “Shrek” for the top spot, despite the animated hit’s legions of tyke followers.

“We’re expecting major crowds for ‘Die Hard,'” said one exhib. “Bruce Willis remains hugely popular here and still has many, many fans.”

Willis’ latest actioner looks likely to benefit from positive reviews and nostalgic appeal.

“‘Die Hard or Live Free,’ while far from a cinematic masterpiece, comes alive due to its consistent retro attitude,” wrote Spiegel Online, while Sueddeutsche Zeitung said it’s “still great fun to watch John McClane fight the destructive forces of evil with similarly destructive force.”

“Shrek” enjoyed a muscular bow in Germany last week with the third best opening of the year and exhibs are predicting the pic will come close to the $37.5 million grossed by “Shrek 2.”

“Die Hard with a Vengeance” pulled in $24 million in Germany in 1995.

Also opening is Curtis Hanson’s poker drama “Lucky You” via Warner Bros. and French-Canadian lesbian drama “The Chinese Botanist’s Daughters,” but pics will take a backseat to “Die Hard” and “Shrek.”

In the U.K., the forecast is wet and green for this weekend’s box office as plentiful rain should result in a bountiful opening for Paramount’s “Shrek.”

Par is releasing the third installment of the animated ogre on 1140 playdates across the U.K. Pic is already going down well with local auds, despite less than stellar reviews. “‘Shrek the Third’ isn’t awful, but it’s bland, with a barrel-scraping averageness. There are no new ideas, no very funny new characters, but one frankly unfunny new character,” wrote The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw.

Nevertheless, pic has already taken in over $12 million in previews and should comfortably take the top slot. “I’m feeling very good about the film as I look out my window and see it chucking down with rain,” said PPI prexy Andrew Cripps. “We’re expecting a very big weekend.”

Prospect of showers should also see the impact of the U.K.’s premier tennis tournament Wimbledon on box office takings muted somewhat as a host of European pix make their bow. The Works wheels out portmanteau homage “Paris, Je T’Aime” on 14 screens across the country. Pic, which boasts a starry directorial line-up including the Coen brothers, Walter Salles and Alexander Payne, has received generally favorable, if less than ecstatic, reviews.

“Some of the shorts, as is to be expected in a project of this kind, fall a little flat; many more though are charming and socially pertinent,” wrote the Telegraph’s Sukhdev Sandhu.

Additional arthouse titles include Momentum’s Dixie Chicks docu “Shut Up and Sing,” Optimum Releasing’s Silver Lion winning “The Golden Door” from Italian helmer Emanuele Crialese, out on 14 screens., and Dogwoof Pictures’ Gallic drama “Les Petites Vacances,” unspooling at a single location. Elsewhere, Sony opens Eli Roth’s gore fest “Hostel Part II” on 264 screens.

Verve Pictures has high hopes for the fact-based cycling drama “The Flying Scotsman” starring Johnny Lee Miller, opening on 69 screens.

On the southern end of the continent, “Transformers” looks set to take Italy by storm, becoming the frame’s surefire winner as it opens on 600.

The other biggest Italo opener is the Pang brothers-helmed horror pic “The Messengers,” out on 154 via 01 Distribuzione. The haunted farmhouse pic may prove a small but significantly smart counterprogramming contender, per some exhibbers.

Additional Italo debuts are decidedly summer shelf-cleaning enroute to homevid: German teen comedy “Harte Jungs,” known locally as “Porky College 2,” will be out on 70 via Mediafilm, while Fox is releasing WWI drama “Flyboys” on 60.

On the arthouse front, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” is going out on four via 01.

In Gaul, “Shrek the Third” looks set to continue its reign on the big screen. Pic has cumed north of $24 million on 850 for Paramount after two frames.

“Ocean’s Thirteen,” which enjoyed a strong first frame in a lull period for new releases in France, is sure to continue its strong performance behind “Shrek.”

New releases include French animated drama “Persepolis,” which has wowed both crix and auds. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes for helmers Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, the tale of a bourgeois Tehran family forced to flee during the revolution opened at nearly $320,000 on 199 for Diaphana. L’Humanite spoke of the “mastery of the artwork” emphasizing “the profound intelligence at the heart of the whole film.”

Veteran helmer Claude Lelouch’s offbeat thriller “Roman de gare” had a solid opening at $170,250 on 276 for Les Films 13. Toplining Dominique Pinon and Fanny Ardant, critics have been generally enthusiastic. “A return to form for Lelouch… a playful thriller, joyously over-elaborate,” piped 20 Minutes.

Meanwhile, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s “28 Weeks Later” faces off with local laffer “Cafe solo o con ellas” in Spain.

There’s large expectation in Spain for “28 Weeks,” given that it’s directed by a Spaniard, the Canary Islands-born Fresnadillo (“Impact”). The sequel to “28 Days Later” bows on a mid copy-range from Fox.

Initial reactions have been good. “Fresnadillo has done more than a proficient job,” said El Pais.

Helmed by first-timer Alvaro Diaz Lorenzo, “Cafe solo o con ellas” marks the latest candidate from Spain to turn some boffo B.O., in a soft half year for homegrown entries. Pic’s a bizarre gross-out commitment comedy, featuring the sexual shenanigans of late-twenties buddies doubting about settling down.

“Cafe,” which won the audience award at the Malaga Spanish Cinema Fest in March, goes out on a wide spread for a Spanish film of 299 from BVI.

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

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more