Fantasy pics prove popular

LONDON — European auds’ hunger for family-friendly fantasy fare helped lift New Line’s festive epic “The Golden Compass” at the B.O. this weekend.

“Compass” opened strongest in the 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. The screen average of $29,129 was almost five times better than any other top 15 title.

Result was north of local booker’s estimations and follows the recent success of homegrown family fantasy film “Stardust” ($30 million to date).

In a frame largely dominated by “Compass,” no other opener penetrated the top 10. Added to that, most of the holdovers dipped by more than 50%.

Warner Bros.’ festive offering “Fred Claus” bucked the trend, slipping a very respectable 32% in its soph sesh for a $7.8 million running cume. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” — also released by WB —held better than most. The Brad Pitt starrer is proving popular with arthouse auds and dropped off 33% in its second frame for an $834,784 running take.

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

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,” said Paul Robert, Metropolitan’s head of programming.

Sliding 38% in its second frame, “Enchanted” is performing well for Disney, and has cumed $9.7 million.

Madcap laffer “L’Auberge Rouge” has done tolerably for Warners after five days. Roundly savaged by the crix, the remake of a 1950s classic banked $2.4 million on 582.

Awards season contender “We Own the Night” has proved a dark horse winner for Wild Bunch. Off only 33% in its second frame, the Cannes competish title toplining Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg 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,” said Jean-Philippe Tirel, Wild Bunch general manager for distribution.

There was less joy for Pathe as “Tous à l’Ouest: une aventure de Lucky Luke” opened lamely. The toon feature earned a paltry $1.2 million on 503 after five days.

In Germany, “Compass” also set a course to the top of the charts where 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 had 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.

Mixed reviews didn’t help the Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig starrer, which had little in the way of competition.

At number two, local comedy “Warum Manner nicht zuhoeren und Frauen schlecht einparken” (“Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps”) held strongly in its second frame, pulling in $1.8 million toward a $4.5 million total — down only 18% from the previous week.

Also holding tight was “American Gangster,” which dropped 29%, adding $848,307 to its $8.5 million cume.

The only other new entry in the top 10 was “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” which opened in fifth with $438,040 from 335 via Universum/Disney.

Three local titles nestled at the bottom of the top 10: in eighth, Disney’s “The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton,” which garnered $392,630 toward a $5.5 million cume; followed by Constantin’s “Lissi” with $275,311 toward a total of $19.6 million; and Christmas comedy “Meine schone Bescherung” from X Verleih/Warner, which managed $243,855 and a $1.6 million total.

In Spain, Tripictures distributed “Compass” notched up one of its standout performances in Europe, grossing a five-day $8 million from 498 copies for a strong $10,311 average. Punchy bow was not far behind bow 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 strong “Compass” start, “the jury’s out on its legs,” said a Spanish booker. “It can’t be compared with the ‘Lord of the Rings’ saga. Audiences are eager to find something similar, but they will soon realize that ‘Compass’ is not on par with it.”

Second place in Spain went to “Bee Movie,” which slipped a very respectable 20% in its sophomore sesh for a $6.4 million running take. Strong Spanish perf bodes well for its upcoming European run.

Jaume Balaguero’s faux zombie TV report “Rec” placed third in its third frame, cuming a splendid $8.7 million, with a 19% fall, making the second best screen average of the weekend: $7,109.

Comedic Spanish toon pic “Donkey Xote” took $959,260 from a 316 copy-spread, below expectations for what was hoped to be Spain’s big Christmas bow.

In Italy — the only major Euro territory where “Compass” did not launch — fairytale fantasy “Enchanted” delivered a promising debut, ousting 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.

“Winx,” the first film stemming from worldwide hit TV series “Winx Club,” dropped 47% in its second weekend, drawing $1.6 million from 523 via 01 Distribuzione for a $5.4 million running cume. Still, exhibs are praising the “Winx” perf, considering this kiddie toon made by Italy’s Rainbow studio lacks Hollywood muscle.

Local laffer “Wedding in the Bahamas” is ensconced in the third slot, having slid a mere 20% in its fourth frame, for a $1.6 million take off 274. Tamely trashy title toplining popular comic Massimo Boldi romancer has accumulated a boffo $13.8 million to date, proving distrib Medusa’s savvy in slotting “Wedding” as a pre-Christmas release.

Fox’s “The Hitman” bowed solidly at number four with $1.1 million off 224 playdates. Pic was the Italo frame’s only other mainstream opener, besides “Enchanted.”

In the Italo arthouse arena, the most notable bow was Marianne Faithfull starrer “Irina Palm.” The Brit brothel drama scored a solid $5,200 per-screen average with $193,000 off 37 via Teodora Film.

Despite strong perfs in a number of important Euro territories, “Palm” is yet to be distribbed in the U.K.

Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park” opened only decently with $270,000 from 69 via BIM Distribuzione.

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

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