‘Speed Racer’ stalls overseas

'Iron Man,' 'Vegas' perform strong at box office

Summer tentpole season hit a speed bump overseas, as the opening of “Speed Racer” met a wall of audience indifference — though the sting was eased somewhat by continued strong support for “Iron Man” and a solid launch for “What Happens in Vegas.”

“Speed” stalled out of the gate with a mere $12.6 million at 3,940 playdates during the May 9-11 frame. Though the international market’s shown plenty of traction recently for family-friendly fare such as “The Golden Compass” ($294 million overseas) and “Horton Hears a Who!” ($136 million foreign), the Warner Bros. actioner was a dud almost everywhere.

“Speed” hit the $1 million mark in only three of its 30 markets — $2.5 million in South Korea, where it was a distant second to the second frame of “Iron Man”; $2 million in Mexico; and $1.3 million in Brazil.

The European markets were far less interested. Spain led the way with $891,000, followed by $714,000 in the U.K., $411,000 in Italy and an especially dismal $146,908 at 590 in Germany, where it finished eighth.

By contrast, “What Happens in Vegas” opened with 15 times as much coin, at $1.9 million, to lead in Germany, which saw its slowest frame of the year as warm temps held down biz.

“Speed Racer” had received plenty of Teutonic press, since it was entirely shot at Studio Babelsberg outside Berlin and partially financed by federal and regional film grants. One exhib blames the pic’s failure not only on negative reviews and a lack of familiarity among Germans with the 1960s toon series upon which it’s based, but also on a possible aversion to its hyperkinetic graphics.

“I think people saw this computer game world and were not impressed,” he notes. “It was not something they wanted to immerse themselves in for two hours.”

“Speed” still has four major markets in which to open, starting with Russia on May 29, followed by Australia on June 12, France on June 18 and Japan on July 5.

But its opening frame gives little hope it will generate significant biz during the remainder of its run.

The rest of the tentpoles still should perform well, though they may fall short of last summer’s super-charged slate.

Despite the heat in Europe and an unsurprising 61% decline in its soph sesh, “Iron Man” still managed to capture an impressive $38.7 million at 7,217 in its second frame. And “Vegas” cashed in a better-than-expected $24.9 million at 3,904 for a respectable $6,369 per-location average.

That meant the tentpole trio combined for $76 million overseas — 9% short of the $83 million tally for the second frame of “Spider-Man 3” during the same frame a year ago. With “Iron Man” and “Vegas” expected to supply decent holdover biz and “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” opening in a dozen markets during May 16-18, overall biz looks to be in decent shape for what should be a massive foreign day-and-date launch of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” starting May 20.

The fourth Indiana Jones pic’s likely to join the club of 10 films that have topped the $100 million mark on their opening weekend, which “Iron Man” nearly cracked on its launch frame. That list is topped by last summer’s leaders — “Pirates of the Caribbean: At the End of the World” with $251 million, “Spider-Man 3” with $239 million and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” with $193 million.

“Iron Man” won’t wind up in the same vicinity as that trio, with each going well past the $500 million overseas. But with $163 million of overseas coin in the bank as of May 11, it should easily pass the $250 million mark — a milestone reached by only 75 pics — by the end of its run.

In the U.K., “Iron Man” held top spot despite dropping 64% to $3.9 million, pushing its Brit cume past $20 million, easily topping the launch of female-skewed “What Happens in Vegas” with $2.5 million at 398. Most pics struggled for auds in a sweltering weekend that saw standing room only at some British beaches plus the hype surrounding the final weekend of the English soccer Premier League.

In Italy, “Iron Man” dropped 50% to $1.6 million, edging “What Happens in Vegas” with $1.3 million from 295 for the flat frame’s highest per-screen average — $4,640. Local boxing biopic “Carnera — the Walking Mountain” took the Italo frame’s biggest beating, bowing at a bruising $213,000 from 244. But Sergei Bodrov’s Gengis Khan biopic “Mongol,” bowed decently with $350,000 from 135 via BIM Distribuzione.

In Spain, “Vegas” easily topped “Iron Man,” with $3.7 million, as rain helped drive traffic. “The appeal of duo Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher and the precedent of ‘There’s Something About Mary’ worked as a nice formula,” a satisfied booker declares.

Archie Thomas in the U.K., Ed Meza in Germany, Emilio Mayorga in Spain and Nick Vivarelli in Italy contributed to this report.

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