Smith earns his box office spurs

LONDON — Proving Will Smith’s heavyweight status at the box office in Europe, “I Am Legend” opened boffo in Germany and Italy this weekend.

Muscular openings replicates the strong perf by the zombie thriller in the U.K., France and Spain. “Legend” has banked $218 million internationally.

Of the awards season’s contenders rolling out in January, “Atonement” was the pick of the bunch, opening very promisingly in Spain despite a muted response from local critics.

That said, Gallic auds’ response to the Brit pic, which won the Golden Globe for drama, was more muted.

In Italy, “I Am Legend” opened molto boffo, scoring $8.5 million off 486 in a fabulous frame up 40% compared with the previous weekend, which also saw Italo entries benefit from the windfall.

While the Warner Bros. pic easily conquered the charts, it didn’t prevent local soccer comedy “L’allenatore nel pallone 2,” from also scoring big, boosted by cameos from star strikers Alessandro del Piero and Francesco Totti.

“L’allenatore” pulled a hefty $5.2 million off 510 playdates for Medusa, which has reason to cheer the outing of this sequel centered around a wacky coach played by comic Lino Banfi.

Nor did “Legend” cramp the debut of “Bianco e Nero” (Black and White), the country’s first interracial romancer, which also got off to a stellar start, taking in $2.3 million from 280 via 01 Distribuzione.

“The year is starting off very nicely for Italian cinema,” enthused “Bianco e Nero” producer Riccardo Tozzi.

In the arthouse arena, Lucky Red is galvanized by the superlative opening of Gallic helmer Abdellatif Kechiche’s “The Secret of the Grain,” which took $357,000 from 38 via Lucky Red for the frame’s third-highest screen average — $ 9,300.

All told, the Italo frame was worth $23.4 million.

After last week’s post holiday slump in Germany, this weekend’s release of “Legend” bounced the German B.O. back into the land of the living, with an opening weekend transfusion of $10.9 million from 713 screens.

Pic’s haul repped 1 million admissions, making it the most titanic January opening since … well, “Titanic” (1.4 million). Result lands Warners the first Bogey Award of 2008. Bogeys are dished out to films breaking 1 million admissions in 10 days.

“Legend’s” bow helped drive overall attendance to a healthy 2.4 million, a 40% increase over this week last year.

Besides “Legend,” the rest of the top 10 consisted of holdovers, with “Keinohrhasen” from Warners hanging tough at the number two spot, after three weeks at number one. Down 19% from last frame, it pulled in a tidy $4.7 million from 610 screens, for a total cume of $27.9 million.

Despite a 33% drop, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” moved up yet again to land at number three, shoring up $937,097, closely followed by Disney’s “Enchanted” with $848, 252. The two kid flicks have racked up cumes of $7.5 and $10.4 million, respectively.

In the U.K., “Legend” retained top spot for the third weekend on the trot with $4 million at 465 screens toward a cume of $43.2 million.

Showing good traction in second spot was romancer “P.S. I Love You.” The Momentum Pictures release dipped just 19% in its second frame for a $10.3 million cume. Pic, based on a bestselling debut novel by Cecelia Ahern, the twentysomething daughter of Ireland’s prime minister, has been open in Ireland since Dec. 21.

Top U.K. opener was Tom Hanks starrer “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which collected $2.6 million at 405 for a decent screen average of $6,480. The Universal release was boosted by Hanks’ strong promotional work in Blighty.

Steve Carell laffer “Dan in Real Life” failed to make much of an impact in its U.K. bow, managing an underwhelming $1.2 million at 348 via Icon.

In Spain, “Atonement” performed above exhibitors’ expectations despite poor critical reviews, taking a frosh weekend $1.5 million off 179, significantly up on France.

Joe Wright’s epic romancer placed third, behind “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” and “American Gangster,” but it took the best copy average of the frame with $8,737.

“Rainy or unsettled weather helped and there were few other adult-targeted bows in Spain,” noted a booker.

Auds probably paid more attention to the seven Golden Globes nominations than to the halfhearted welcome from the Spanish press.

“We’ve been saturated by children’s movies. This is like a breath of fresh air. ‘Atonement’ didn’t have much advertising, but it certainly had more than most other bows,” added another booker.

The Joe Wright-Keira Knightley combo has worked before in Spain, where “Pride and Prejudice” took a respectable $4.7 million in Spain two years ago.

Fox’s “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” performed at the high-end of expectations, gobbling up $2.3 million from 341 prints and placing first.

“Gangster” pulled $1.7 million, cuming $10 million and sliding just 15% in its third frame.

“‘Aliens’ performed well, but ‘Gangster’ and ‘Atonement’ will definitely have longer legs,” predicted a third exhibber.

“I Am Legend” and “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” settled after last weekend’s steep drops (57% and 47% respectively), falling just 21% and 22% in their fourth sessions. Warner’s “Legend” has cumed $17 million. BVI’s “Treasure” has cumed $11.5 million.

While some distribbers are less glum than other of their confreres, few champagne corks have been flying in France lately to toast box office successes.

The most voiced gripes: too much mid-range product coming out simultaneously; a general lack of blockbusters, whether foreign or domestic; the onset of the January shop sales; and a nasty new trend of much bigger second- and third-frame drop-offs than in the past.

However, Pathe is pleased with the perf of Sean Penn’s wilderness pic “Into the Wild,” which earned $2 million on 172 in its first five days.

“Legend” has made Warners one of the happier campers in Gaul. Down 63% in its fourth frame, it has cumed nearly $24 million.

“Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” is a good example of the later-frame drop off effect, down 66% in its second for Fox. Result moves the cume to $4.4 million.

“Atonement” is simply not doing it for either crix or auds in Gaul. Pic managed a not catastrophic, but not great $1 million on 225 after five days for StudioCanal.

As elsewhere in Europe, “Rendition” is proving a dud in Gaul. The Metropolitan release earned a paltry $635,000 on 240 after five days.

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

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