Shyamalan's latest tops foreign box office

Scare fare triumphed overseas as M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening” edged “The Incredible Hulk” at the weekend’s foreign box office.

“The Happening” took $32.1 million at 5,714 playdates in 88 markets, but “Incredible Hulk” turned in a far stronger per-screen performance, with $31 million at 3,165 in 38 territories, as the superhero pic won head-to-head battles while holding back launches in much of Europe.

The frame also saw solid holdover biz for “Sex and the City” with $23.3 million and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” with $18.5 million.

Fox Intl. took advantage of the year’s only Friday the 13th to launch “The Happening” in every market except Japan and Argentina. Co-prexies Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus said the Shyamalan pic beat internal forecasts, as it overcame the distractions of the Euro Cup soccer tourney plus unenthusiastic reviews.

“There’s a real disconnect between critics and audiences, who are responding well to a very watchable film,” Jegeus noted, adding that moviegoer reaction has encouraged Fox to expect decent holdover biz in coming weeks.

The solid start for “The Happening” represents something of a rebound for Shyamalan, whose “Lady in the Water” took in only $30 million overseas in 2006. His previous pics have shown plenty of traction offshore, with “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” “Signs” and “The Village” combining for more than $800 million in foreign box office.

“The Happening” topped $1 million in 10 markets and scored first places in France with $4.7 million, in Spain with $3.8 million and in Italy with $1.9 million — with no competition from “The Incredible Hulk.” It finished third in the U.K. with $3.4 million as “Hulk” easily won with $6.3 million and the third frame of “Sex and the City” took in $3.7 million.

“Hulk” generated socko Mexican biz, with $4.6 million, 86% higher than “The Happening,” and Universal’s biggest launch ever for that territory. The superhero pic also scored in the booming Russian market with $3.7 million, including U’s biggest opening day ever on Thursday.

Universal noted “The Incredible Hulk” had easily outperformed 2003’s “Hulk” in markets including South Korea, where it took $3.3 million, 88% up on its predecessor. “Hulk” grossed $113 million overseas by the end of its run. “Incredible Hulk” expands next weekend into Italy and Spain and won’t face another superhero pic until Sony opens “Hancock” in early July.

Overall biz was typically brisk for a summer, as “Sex and the City” remained a formidable counterprogrammer and lifted its foreign cume to $136 million, led by an impressive $40.4 million in the U.K. Its Australian soph sesh turned in the top number, with $4.2 million, off 45%, and its Holland launch led with $1.2 million.

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” also stayed solid, with its fourth frame declining 50% for a foreign cume of $357.7 million — leading “Iron Man” as the year’s top international grosser by more than $100 million. With a Japan launch next weekend, “Skull” is certain to top the $400 million mark in overseas box office, becoming the first pic to do so since “Ratatouille.”

Par’s “Kung Fu Panda” put its paws on $14 million at 1,721 in 15 markets, with brawny second frames in Russia with $5.3 million and South Korea with $4.4 million — topping “The Incredible Hulk” in both. Par’s cumed $41.5 million overseas so far as it’s opted for a go-slow release strategy for “Panda,” with the family pic expanding to China and Mexico next weekend.

Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” continued to find family coin with $11.2 million at 4,700 in 30 markets, pushing its foreign cume to $123 million. Soph seshes in Australia and Japan brought in $1.9 million each; “Caspian” turned in a boffo $1 million launch in Argentina, the highest opening of 2008, and the Mouse House’s third biggest ever in that market.

With summer vacations not yet in full swing in Europe, Disney has held off the European launch of “Caspian” until late June, when it opens in the U.K. and France.

Romantic comedy “What Happens in Vegas” led the rest of the pack with $3.1 million at 2,000, pushing the foreign cume to $114.1 million — well above Fox’s expectations and nearly $40 million ahead of the domestic total.

Sony’s “Made of Honor” charmed its way to $3 million at 1,500, led by a second-place Italian launch, for a $39 million foreign cume. Its “21” added $2.5 million at 1,255 to lift the international total to a respectable $63.5 million.

Sony’s also opted to go gradually with “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” which took in $1.4 million at 455 in four markets for a $4.6 million foreign cume. “Zohan” goes into Australia, Israel and Russia next weekend.

Fox’s “Juno” opened with $211,000 at 111 in Japan, its final foreign market, to lift the comedy’s offshore take to an impressive $84.3 million.

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