'Surfer' adds to B.O. business

LONDON — The tills were overflowing at the European box office this weekend thanks to the allure of a quartet of tentpole sequels dreamed up across the pond.

In a bumper European frame, day and date release “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” breezed in in top spot in the U.K. and Italy, “Shrek the Third” opened whammo in France, crime caper “Ocean’s Thirteen” held stylishly in its soph sesh and swashbuckler “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” steered a steady course in its fourth frame.

“Silver Surfer” smashed the competish in Blighty with a monster $8.2 million at 475 — 17% up on the original, which banked $7 million at 406 in 2005.

“Silver Surfer” benefited from a savvy promotional push from Fox in Blighty, which saw a massive PVC recreation of the titular character attached to the structure of the London Eye observation wheel. Eye brass had not permitted a similar stunt before and won’t again until at least 2012. The splashy three-day London worldwide press junket and June 12 premiere helped keep the pic in the papers every day last week. Plus, reviews were kind enough.

The huge haul for the comic book actioner was almost twice that of second-placed “Thirteen,” which dipped a more than respectable 28% in its soph sesh to $4.3 million at 482 and a $14 million cume. As predicted by Brit bookers, “Thirteen” is appealing to maturer auds than some of the other summer juggernauts and showing good legs in the territory.

“At World’s End” slipped 30% in its fourth frame for a $72.2 million running cume. Sony’s claustrophobic motel-set horror romp “Vacancy” checked in with a fine $1.1 million at 288.

The upbeat weekend at the U.K. B.O. — which was helped by rainy weather driving auds indoors — also saw some startling counterprogamming successes.

Guillaume Canet’s French thriller “Tell No One” drew praise from the Brit critics and aroused the interest of arthouse auds. The Revolver Entertainment release pocketed $345,234 at just 55 for an impressive $6,277 screen average.

But limited-release hit of the week in the U.K. goes to Indian stunt-heavy actioner “Sivaji,” which became the first Tamil-language release to crack the top 10 in Blighty. The Ayngaran International release took $334,849 at 12 (including $73,530 in previews) for a whammo and chart-topping screen average of $27,902.

“Sivaji’s” running time in excess of three hours did not dissuade fans of 57-year-old Tamil superstar and lead Rajnikanth — or “king of styles” as his admirers prefer to call him — from flocking to the Cineworld circuit (the only exhibitor showing the pic).

Another Indian film scoring big at the U.K. box office this weekend was “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom,” which took sixth spot with $529,884 at 47 for Yash Raj. The U.K. setting for the pic and stellar Bollywood cast of Abhishek Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, Bobby Deol, Preity Zinta and Lara Dutta combined to attract auds.

In Italy, “Silver Surfer” glided to the top, scoring $3 million on 578 in a monolithic frame that saw all other outings fail on takeoff despite a 12% B.O. rise over the previous weekend.

Fox’s “Fantastic Four” sequel easily ousted “Thirteen,” which dropped 47% in its second frame, pulling a paltry $1.2 million on 501 for a $4.5 million running cume, according to national B.O. compiler Cinetel.

“At World’s End” dropped 53% in its fourth frame to $613,000 on 379, moving the latest “Pirates” pic to a $21 million running cume.

The slew of smaller titles jockeying for counterprogramming success met with a bloodbath, starting with Agnieszka Holland’s “Copying Beethoven” — the Ed Harris starrer mustered a mere $101,000 on 88 via Nexo at number six.

Gallic Monica Bellucci starrer “The Stone Council,” helmed by Guillaume Nicloux, debuted at number 15, taking $41,500 on 27 via 01 Distribuzione.

Krzysztov Zanussi’s revenge drama “Black Sun,” starring Valeria Golino, also got burned, bringing in only $37,000 on 26 via Mikado.

Just like last week, Italy’s only counterprogramming bright note was Berlin Golden Bear winner “Tuya’s Wedding,” which only slid 3% in its widened second frame, scoring $100,000 on 36 for a healthy $262,000 cume via Lucky Red.

In it first outing in a major European territory, “Shrek the Third” gobbled up a big pile of greenbacks in Gaul.

Gallic critics and auds young and old can’t get enough of the malodorous ogre, which chomped off $12.4 million in its opening five-day weekend with Par.

“At World’s End” is showing good sea legs in France, where it dipped 40% in its fourth frame, for a none-too-shabby cume of $37.5 million for BVI.

Local light-hearted laffer “Conversations with My Gardener” has put in a solid perf for StudioCanal, cuming $4.1 million after two frames on 530.

And while not a total wash-out, Quentin Tarantino’s “Grindhouse: Death Proof” has performed worse than had been hoped for by TFM, cuming around $2.7 million after two frames. Favorable words from the Gallic critics have not equated to boffo success this time for Tarantino.

In Spain, there was a collective sigh of relief from local industryites as “Under the Stars,” a homegrown pic from debut director Felix Viscarret, lodged an upbeat entry. New Spanish bows have underperformed consistently during the first half of the year.

Released by Notro, a specialist in quirky titles, village set coming of ager “Under the Stars,” grossed $295,260 off 78. Although not a huge haul, it did score the second best per-copy average of the weekend, $3,785, just below the per-copy-average for No. 1 pic, holdover “Thirteen,” which took $1.9 million off 480 in its soph sesh.

With good word-of-mouth and positive reviews, “Stars” — which played especially well in key cities, and is still to expand to further major towns — has the makings of a sleeper.

From provisional stats, Audrey Tautou gold-digger comedy, “Hors de prix,” distribbed by Flins & Peniculas, also made a useful $290,000, though off a far larger 138 copies.

In another creditable perf for Euro pics, U.S.-German toon pic “Happily N’Ever After,” a co-production between Odyssey Ent., Vanguard Films, BAF Berlin Animation Film and BFC Berliner Film, actually rose 6% in its second frame.

Spaniards are beginning to take vacations, part of which traditionally is a visit to the cinema with their tykes to catch an animated picture. “Happily N’Ever After’ is holding up very well. It’s been quite a surprise,” said one exhibber.

The weekend frame as a whole was weak — dipping 33%. Second-placed “At World’s End,” grossed $1.6 million off 663 in its fourth frame for a $26.3 million cume, still way down on “Dead Man’s Chest.” Main cause for the soft frame was a lack of big entries, plus a nail-biting finish to the Spanish soccer league, which had millions of Spaniards glued to their TV sets Sunday evening.

In Russia, “At World’s End” has become the biggest grossing foreign film ever in the territory.

After its fourth weekend, the actioner has taken just north of $30 million (778 million rubles), according to local reps of Buena Vista-Sony Pictures Releasing. “Dead Man’s Chest” was the top grossing foreign pic in the territory in 2006.

Only remaining question is whether the third pic in the franchise can become the biggest ever grosser of all time in Russia. It is currently around $2 million short of records set by last year’s local blockbuster, Timur Bekmambetov’s “Day Watch.”

“At World’s End” and “Thirteen” continue to dominate the German box office, accounting for the lion’s share of the country’s admissions.

Nevertheless, sunny weather and little excitement about the week’s new crop of films resulted in an 11% drop at the box office compared with the previous week.

New openers “Hot Fuzz,” “Hostel 2″ and “Irina Palm” made modest headway.

Still at number one, “At World’s End” dipped just 35% to $3.1 million from 974 locations for a running total of $49.7 million.

“Thirteen,” continuing to cash in on the popularity of its stars, dropped 28% to $2.8 million from 773 and a $7.8 million cume.

Universal’s British cop laffer “Hot Fuzz” opened in third with $766,021 from 299, while Sony Pictures’ bloody torture fest “Hostel 2″ bowed in fourth with $726,269 on 214.

X Verleih’s well-received comedy “Irina Palm,” about a grandmother forced to work in a sex parlor for desperately needed cash, opened in fifth place with $474,545 on 80. Pic enjoyed the box office’s best average, taking in $5,932 per location.

Additional reporting by John Hopewell (Spain), David Hayhurst (France), Ed Meza (Germany), Nick Vivarelli (Italy) and Tom Birchenough (Russia).

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