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Europeans opt for Hollywood fare

'Escape 2 Africa' beats local rivals

ROME — Hollywood pics prevailed at the crowded European pre-holiday box office, where “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” outperformed big local titles bowing in Italy, Germany, and France, while Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling” conquered Spain, and “Twilight” took Blighty.

The vampire romancer sunk its teeth into the U.K. top spot with a bow $3.7 million on 446 screens. The Robert Pattinson starrer also posted the best screen average of the frame: $8,340.

“Twilight” release was the first for E1 Films, the U.K. subsidiary of Entertainment One Group. “Great start for ‘Twilight,’ great start for E1 Films. We’re looking forward to a lucrative holiday season and beyond,” enthused Alex Hamilton, director, E1 Films.

“Escape 2 Africa” maintained its solid biz in Blighty, dropping 25% in its third frame to take second spot and move the cume to $19.1 million. Bookers expect the animated sequel to play well with families through the holidays.

Holdover of the weekend was undoubtedly U.S. laffer “Four Christmases.” The Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon festive comedy slipped only 6% in its fourth weekend and has now taken $12.6 million. Pic has proved a strong early December earner for Entertainment and exhibs report it has attracted date auds.

Keanu Reeves starrer “The Day the Earth Stood Still” hurtled down the charts in its soph sesh. Following its solid bow last weekend the sci-fi remake dropped an alarming 63% to $1.5 million at 467. The cume for “Earth” now stands at $7.2 million.

In Italy, Universal’s “Madagascar” sequel bowed boffo with $6.3 million off 565, surprisingly besting local laffer “Christmas in Rio” in a rich frame.

“Rio,” the 25th installment in a trashy Christmas franchise that usually opens at numero uno, still launched nicely with a tasty $4.7 million from 592 for Filmauro.

Italy’s other domestic heavy hitter, “Il Cosmo Sul Como,” starring comic trio Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo, bowed only decently with $3.4 million off 479 via Medusa at number three.

Richard Gere and Diane Lane romancer “Nights in Rodanthe” opened at number four, enticing $1.1 million from 240 via Warner Bros. in line with exhib predictions.

The Italo weekend’s two lackluster launches were family fantasy “City of Ember,” which pulled a paltry $285,000 from 125 via Eagle Pictures, and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” which drew a slightly better but still moderate $218,000 from 77 via Buena Vista International.

All told, the Italo frame was up a whopping 91% compared with the previous weekend — and up 20% compared with the same frame in 2007 — for a total take of more than $18 million.

In Germany, the furry critters of “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” mauled local superstar Til Schweiger, whose medieval spoof “1½ Knights: In Search of the Ravishing Princess Herzelinde” proved no match for Universal’s family hit.

“Escape 2 Africa,” which took in more than $5.5 million in its third frame for a running cume of $29.4 million, is the last DreamWorks Animation feature to be released by Universal in Germany. Beginning in January, Paramount will takeover all future DreamWorks Animation releases on Teutonic screens.

“1½ Knights,” meanwhile, garnered $3.2 million in its opening weekend, well below the first weekend gross of Schweiger’s last film, romantic comedy “Keinohrhasen,” which had opened this time last year and went on to become the biggest hit of 2008.

“1½ Knights” nevertheless enjoyed the second biggest opening for a German film after “The Baader Meinhof Complex.”

In third, Warner’s “Inkheart,” an adaptation of German author Cornelia Funke’s fantasy bestseller, slid only 13% in its second sesh to $1.7 million and a $4.3 million cume to date.

Dropping 45% in its second week, Fox’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” managed $1.6 million for a running cume of $5.4 million, putting it in fourth place.

In Spain, Clint Eastwood’s Angelina Jolie starrer “Changeling” topped the charts in a soft frame.

“Changeling” grossed $2.1 million off 327 sites, for a solid $6,615 screen average via UPI.

Fox holdover “The Day the Earth Stood Still” came in second despite a 56% drop. “Day” has registered a solid $5.4 million running cume in its sophomore sesh.

Exhibs were instead disappointed by rodent toon “The Tale of Despereaux.”

Despite excellent press and optimistic predictions, “Despereaux” only managed to nibble $595,509 from 340 via UPI.

One booker put it down to toon titles overkill “With so many of them out there, kids’ attention gets dispersed; they focus on the strongest ones while the rest go by almost unnoticed,” he explained.

Meanwhile, vampires are proving to have a long life at Spanish wickets.

Despite a 44% drop in its third frame, “Twilight” hung on for third place and a $11.9 million cume.

Warner Bros.’ “Yes Man” took $1.3 million off 294, the Jim Carrey vehicle scoring the second best playdate average of the weekend with $4,332 per site.

For the four-day Christmas frame, exhibbers expect a big recovery. A couple of highly anticipated pics bow Dec. 25, including Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” on 450 via Fox, and Sony’s “The Spirit” on 350.

In Gaul, a hodgepodge of genres lured auds as the festive season and school hols got going. While most distribbers seem bullish, some are more doubtful about what might hit or miss in the next few busy and brutally competitive weeks.

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” now stands as the 10th best earner of the year after three frames. Its cume stands at nearly $21.9 million on 931 for Paramount.

“Largo Winch” is enjoying healthy returns for Wild Bunch. The big-budget actioner helmed by Jerome Salle and toplining Kristin Scott Thomas gained $3.4 million on 486 in its first five days.

The Coen brothers have again shown they can do no wrong in Gaul. “Burn After Reading” may well turn out to be their top performer ever in France.

Sliding 33% in its second frame, “Burn” has cumed $5.3 million to date via StudioCanal.

Additional reporting by Archie Thomas (U.K.), Ed Meza (Germany), David Hayhurst (France) and Emilio Mayorga (Spain).

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