Overseas audiences seek ‘Escape’

'Earth' stands second at foreign box office

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” stampeded to the top spot of the pre-Christmas weekend international box office with $33.5 million at 5,959 playdates in 56 territories.

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” finished a respectable second with $21 million at 7,850 in 92 markets, led by a solid $4.9 million launch in Japan. And with a $3.9 million Brit debut, “Twilight” continued to bite into sizable foreign coin with $11 million at 3,140 in 27 territories.

Domestic winner “Yes Man” opened decently in a limited foreign launch with $3.5 million at 653 in half a dozen markets, led by Spain with $1.3 million and South Korea with $1.2 million. But “The Tale of Despereaux” found less traction, with $1.7 million at 792 in the U.K., Spain and Portugal.

Underlining the power of animated sequels overseas, “Escape 2 Africa” posted the top per-location at $5,631. With the pic now midway through its foreign release, Paramount took advantage of the pre-Christmas frame to generate the weekend’s best opening with $6.5 million in Italy — slightly better than that of the 2005 original.

The toon also topped Australia with $4.4 million in its opening and racked up impressive holdovers in its third weekends in Germany with $4.8 million, down only 34%, and in France with $4.1 million, off 36%. “Escape 2 Africa” sequel has cumed $218.5 million internationally, topping the domestic total by $46 million and leaving it $120 million away from matching the final foreign take of 2005’s “Madagascar.”

It’s the 14th film to top the $200 million mark outside the U.S. in 2008, and it caps an impressive year that’s seen the six Hollywood studios in line to match last year’s record-setting total of $9.5 billion. Top grossers are “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “Wanted,” “The Dark Knight,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “Hancock,” “Quantum of Solace,” “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” “Wall-E,” “Iron Man,” “Sex and the City” and French sensation “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis.”

Par, which has opted for a staggered release pattern for the “Madagascar” sequel to take advantage of local holidays, launches it in Thailand and Indonesia on Christmas, followed by China and Poland on New Year’s Day.

“Escape 2 Africa” won the first December frame at the foreign box office with $50 million, then ceded first place last weekend to “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” which launched with $39 million.

“Day” took in more than $1 million in half a dozen markets in their second frame, led by Russia and followed by the U.K., Spain, Germany, France and Mexico. The sci-fier has cumed $72.3 million outside the U.S. — $24 million ahead of the domestic total.

In other weekend highlights, Disney’s “Bolt” fetched $5.3 million at 2,300 in 15 markets, including a $1.8 million Mexican launch, while the third weekend of the Mouse House’s “Wall-E” declined only 28% in Japan to $3.3 million, pushing the international total to $283 million.

Fox’s “Australia” took in $2.6 million at 1,100 in Australia, South Korea, Belgium and Holland to lift its foreign cume to $19.4 million. Baz Luhrmann’s pricey epic launches on Christmas in many key international markets.

Christmas will also see Disney open family comedy “Bedtime Stories” day-and-date in France, Germany, Spain and the U.K., while “Yes Man” launches in the U.K.

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