Several films vie for European crown

Box office market becoming crowded

LONDON — The European box office presented a fragmented image this weekend, with no one pic coming top in more than one major market.

There were noteworthy first place debuts, however, for “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” in Spain, “Four Christmases” in the U.K. and “Transporter 3” in France.

“Quantum of Solace” kept the tills ringing with mostly solid Euro holdover trade, including a top spot hold in currently quiet German market.

In Spain, “Escape 2 Africa” dominated biz, grossing $5.8 million off 580 for a boffo screen average of $9,915. This makes it the best opening for an animated pic in Spain this year, comfortably outstripping “Kung Fu Panda” ($4.9 million) and “Wall-E” ($2.5 million). Among all releases, “Escape 2 Africa” is the third biggest bow of the year in Spain, behind “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” ($9.7 million) and “Hancock” ($7.2 million).

“A very strong opening, some 15%-20% above our projections,” commented a delighted local booker.

Exhibs expect it to show good legs, although it will face competition from “Bolt” next weekend. The forthcoming holiday weekend is traditionally a bumper one at the Spanish box office as the country celebrates Constitution Day on Monday.

“Solace” felt the heat from “Escape 2 Africa,” dipping a considerable 57% in its soph sesh. Bondpic has cumed $8.2 million to date.

The impressive “Escape 2 Africa” start in Spain was repeated in smaller Euro territories where it bowed excellently. According to Par, the family fave, which has already romped to more than $40 million in Russia alone, achieved best ever animated territory openings in Portugal, Romania and Bulgaria this weekend.

In the U.K., holiday pic “Four Christmases” kicked off December biz with a top place opening via Entertainment. The Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn Christmas-themed laffer cooked up $3.4 million at 434 screens and also posted the weekend’s best screen average: $7,868. Pic went into the weekend with more than $600,000 already in the bank from Wednesday and Thursday previews.

The punchy “Four Christmases” bow meant “Solace” had to settle for second spot for the first time since it debuted a month ago. This weekend, its fifth, the Brit superspy actioner dropped 50% to take another $2.2 million toward a $71.5 million running cume.

Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling” got off to a decent start in Blighty. The Angelina Jolie starrer bowed in third position with $1.8 million (including $400,000 in previews) at 351 via Universal.

Besides the top three, nothing particularly impressed other than Israeli animated docu “Waltz With Bashir,” which held pretty well. Genre busting pic, which scooped best foreign film at the British Independent Film Awards on Sunday night, dropped off 18% in its soph sesh toward a $433,935 running take via arthouse specialist distrib Artificial Eye.

In Italy, “Twilight” stayed put in the top spot in its soph frame, as expected, while “Bolt” bowed decently and “Max Payne” did moderate biz.

Vampire romancer slid just 43% after its boffo bow, drawing $3 million from 545 for a tasty $9.8 million Italo running cume.

Disney’s “Bolt” opened at number two with $2.1 million from 467. Result was in line with expectations.

“Payne” debuted at $781,000 off 226 via Fox at number six for a soft $3,425 per screen average.

Elsewhere at the Italo box office, Yank martial arts pic “Never Back Down” scored a solid $733,000 opening via Medusa, while drag actioner “Death Race” didn’t take off, managing a paltry $209,000 off 100 via Universal.

Local helmer Luca Lucini’s single-dad drama “Solo un padre” (Just a Father) bowed passably with $743,000 from 203 via Warner Bros. In the Italo arthouse arena, Wim Wenders drama “Palermo Shooting,” in a radically re-edited cut, fired flat with $66,000 from 40 via BIM Distribuzione.

In France, “Transporter 3” knocked the stuffing out of the weekend competish, raking in a tidy $4.7 million on 535 in its first five days for EuropaCorp. Result was some 77% better than for the same period for part two of the franchise in 2005.

While down by a sheepish 49% in its second frame, “Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One” is still a bona fide hit for Pathe in Gaul. Bowing a month after “Mesrine: Death Instinct” — which is sitting pretty in eighth spot after six frames — the Vincent Cassel starring second chapter of the two-part biopic of the legendary 70s gangster has cumed $7.9 million on 500.

“Changeling” dropped only 20% in its third Gallic frame and has now bagged $7.4 million.

SND release “Vilaine” is proving something of a sleeper hit in France. The revenge fantasy laffer has cumed $5.6 million — up 38 prints from launch day — and is set to double the distrib’s pre-release expectations.

In an upbeat French marketplace, “Two Lovers” is also ticking along nicely for Wild Bunch. Off 16% in its second frame, the romantic drama toplining Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow has cumed more than $3 million.

In a soft Teuton frame, which was down 28% on the previous weekend, “Solace” held top spot for the fourth weekend running. Bondpic slipped 44% for $2.3 million toward a whopping $35.1 million cume. “Solace” has now passed “Mamma Mia!” to become Germany’s top grosser of the year.

New entry “Death Race” (Universal) entered the charts with $647,977 from 199 screens to cross the line at number 4, while lack of competition opened the door to Brit romantic comedy “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” (Concorde). The date night crowd supported the Simon Pegg starring pic, which pulled $318,655 (at 102) and managed the weekend’s best per screen average: $3,124.

Of the holdovers, French comedy “Welcome to the Sticks” (Prokino/Fox) showed the best traction. The laffer slipped only 18 in its fifth outing allowing it to move up one notch to third in the charts with $747,076. Total now stands at $6.4 million.

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

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