Epic romance retains top spot despite clamour

SYDNEY — It’s a tale of two audiences.

Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” continued losing auds in Oz cities, but strong showings outside the urban areas, where mixed reviews went unheeded, helped pic to retain top spot in its soph session Down Under despite a strong debut by Disney’s “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.”

Epic romance, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, grossed A$4.1 million ($2.65 million) for a $9.6 million, 12-day cume from 642 screens, the widest ever rollout in Oz. That result edged out “HSM 3″ with $2.6 million.

” ‘Australia’ has probably exceeded my expectations,” said Kieren Dell, CEO of five-site regional New South Wales circuit Majestic Cinemas.

Weekend perf was 36% off the opening weekend result, with strong regional auds offsetting softer results in the cities. Fox was hoping good word of mouth and the tendency for Luhrmann’s pics to hold would see “Australia” drop by just 25%.

But Fox Australia marketing topper Marc Wooldridge is still happy with the result.

“It’s definitely got momentum. We always predicted a long tail, and it’s playing out that way,” he said.

Peter Cody, film manager of the mostly metro circuit Greater Union, said, “It held up remarkably well over the weekend; the percentage drop was quite low in comparison with most big films. We were very happy.”

“Australia” will play on fewer screens this weekend to make way for “Twilight,” but Fox doesn’t expect a commensurate box office drop, as “Australia” is mostly playing to older auds.

“I’ve already spoken to older people who have seen it two or three times, and now that it’s (school summer vacation) the kids are starting to come in,” said Dell.

“It’s still playing to very good houses,” said Peter Howard, manager of regional cinemas in Taree and Tuncurry in New South Wales.

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