Film sets record for best opening in Greece

The Spartans are coming to the rescue at the international box office.

With the March 9-11 frame not seeing a single pic crack the $10 million mark, the weekend still had cause for optimism, as Warner Bros.’ “300” grossed an outsize $6.5 million at a mere 337 playdates in five midsized overseas markets — Greece, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan — for a socko per-screen average of $19,288.

Despite its smallish screen count, “300” still managed to finish fifth during the frame, trailing only “Music and Lyrics” with $9.8 million from 2,500, “Norbit” with $9.3 million off 1,987, “Ghost Rider” with $9.2 million from 3,686 and Italian romancer “Ho volglia di te” with $8.3 million off 575.

Greek audiences showed notable fervor for Zack Snyder’s violent adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the battle of Thermopylae. “300” set a record for best Greek opening, with $3.1 million at 138, topping last summer’s “Pirates of the

Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” even though the latter opened with 100 more prints.

Taiwan generated $1.5 million at 91, repping 66% of the top-five market share. In the Philippines, the $750,000 launch became the second largest for a pic with an R13 rating.

Those performances, along with the impressive $70.9 million U.S. debut, portends massive biz for the rest of the world. South Korea opened March 14, followed by a major expansion the following frame — France on March 21, the U.K., Italy, Spain and Mexico two days later and Germany and Australia on April 5.

Japan’s the only major market that won’t see “300” imminently, with a release date planned for June.

“It will go very, very, very well in Spain,” says one Iberian exhib, who predicted around $16 million for the title and listed violence and piracy as the only possible downsides.

“There’s lots of excitement about it,” a German booker notes. “It even got a standing ovation at the Berlinale. The movie is going to attract male viewers looking for brutal action and female viewers eager to see Gerard Butler in the buff.”

In short, “300” should be a tonic to the international box office during the weeks leading up to the opening of the summer tentpole season with the early May launch of “Spider-Man 3.” And the bright prospects for “300” come on the heels of action fans already having supported “Ghost Rider” to the tune of nearly $80 million overseas.

During the frame, Sony’s “Ghost Rider” narrowly lost its bid to win its fourth straight weekend crown, led by a U.K. soph sesh with $1.7 million from 342 as the Nicolas Cage starrer fell 52%. Best perf has come from Spain with $6.9 million in four weeks; worldwide cume for “Rider” is roughly $185 million as of March 14.

Along with “Night at the Museum,” “Blood Diamond” and “The Pursuit of Happyness,” “Ghost Rider” has kept the box office on a healthy track in 2007. “Night” had hit $283 million overseas as of March 11, while “Diamond” reached $99 million in foreign cume and “Pursuit” had gone past $131 million.

As for “Music and Lyrics,” it carries the dubious distinction of being the only pic to lead a weekend at the foreign box office this year without reaching $10 million. It was the lowest take by the No. 1 pic since “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” led the final September frame with $7.6 million.

Still, the pic easily won in Germany, where the box office was up nearly 10% thanks to decent starts by “Music” with $3.14 million from 606 and “Norbit” with $2.4 million off 544. “After weeks of strong juvenile fare like ‘Ghost Rider’ and ‘The Wild Soccer Bunch 4,’ our older viewers were eager for a pleasant romantic comedy,” an exhib says.

“Music” also showed legs in South Korea, gaining 6% in its second frame to $1.2 million. With a strong trailer, “Norbit” showed beefy returns in the U.K. with a solid opening of $3.8 million.

In another sign of the health of local pics, Italian audiences swooned for “Ho voglia di te” (“I Want You”), which nearly beat the five-year-old record set by “Pinocchio” for best opening weekend by an Italian pic.

In France, local pics took the first three slots led by the fourth frame of “La Vie en rose” with more than $33 million. “Night at the Museum” was the best among the non-French with better than $1 million in its fifth frame to lift the Gallic cume past $16 million.

In Mexico, “Las ninas mal,” the first local production from Columbia Pictures, bowed at No. 1 and topped “Music and Lyrics,” with $1.6 million at 352.

BVI’s first foreign launches of “Wild Hogs” in Australia and New Zealand looked beefy, with $2.6 million at 190 and $195,000 at 45, respectively.

Archie Thomas in London, Mark Schilling in Tokyo, John Hopewell in Madrid, Ed Meza in Berlin and Michael O’Boyle in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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