Counterprogrammers profit too

LONDON — “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” filled its boots at the European box office this weekend.

Boosted by its splashy May 18 world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and some upbeat reviews, “Crystal Skull” comfortably topped the charts in its eagerly awaited opening in all major Euro markets; the U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

“Crystal Skull” raided its biggest B.O. booty in the U.K., where it took $24.1 million at 528 in its first four days, according to Rentrak data. The opening weekend haul was helped by lousy weather in the South of England and the Monday May 25 holiday, which swelled Sunday evening cinema biz considerably.

The return of the “Indiana Jones” franchise after 19 years whipped the competition into submission.

Successful counterprogrammer “What Happens in Vegas” came in second with $1.8 million at 405 via Fox. The Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher starrer dipped a respectable 39% in its third frame, moving the running cume to $10 million.

“Vegas” holdover was the most impressive as other pics such as “Iron Man” (down 56%) and “Speed Racer” (down 60%) felt the full force of Indy.

In Germany, “Crystal Skull” enjoyed the best start of the year and sent overall weekend ticket sales soaring by more than 74%.

Giving the local box office a much needed boost, Dr. Jones’ latest adventure grossed a spectacular $12.1 million from 858 locations, clearly proving the character’s lasting popularity among German auds.

“Crystal Skull” easily bested the performances of Steven Spielberg’s last three blockbusters in Germany, “War of the Worlds,” “Minority Report” and “Catch Me If You Can.”

“This film has benefited tremendously from the nostalgia factor. It’s attracting a huge number of older viewers who grew up with the original films as well as young moviegoers looking for a great action film,” noted one exhib.

With nearly 1.1 million admissions, “Crystal Skull” quickly snapped up double Bogey Awards for surpassing the one-million-viewer mark in a 10-day period and for achieving a per-copy average of more than 1,000 moviegoers over its weekend start — the first such award for Universal this year.

As in Blighty, Fox’s counterprogrammer “What Happens in Vegas” enjoyed a respectable third-frame take in Germany; $1.8 million for an $8 million cume. In third, Sony’s “Made of Honor” also profited from female auds, pulling in $967,606 in its second session toward a $3.2 million total.

In Italy, “Crystal Skull” opened good but not great with $6.3 million from 689 screens, as local helmer Matteo Garrone’s Cannes Grand Prix winner “Gomorrah” scored a boffo second frame.

While Universal’s “Crystal Skull” felt the pinch from “Gomorrah,” which is based on a best-selling Naples Mafia expose, it still managed a per-screen-average of $9,000 — strong for a sunny weekend.

“Gomorrah,” a realistic rendition of the mob underworld gripping Naples, dropped a mere 11% in its second frame to cop $2.6 million off 425 for a gangbusters $7.5 million two-frame cume via 01 Distribuzione.

“I can’t believe it. It’s not a crowdpleaser; the response is beyond my wildest expectations,” enthused helmer Garrone to Variety.

Another Italo Cannes title, Marco Tullio Giordana’s drama about a pair of Fascist-era movie stars, “Wild Blood,” which unspooled as a special screening, instead opened modestly with $356,000 from 159 for 01 Distribuzione.

Italo frame’s other openers, however, fared much worse. Supernatural thriller “Rise,” starring Robert Forster and Lucy Liu, opened at a flat $194,000 from 127 via Eagle Pictures. Michel Gondry’s Jack Black-starrer “Be Kind Rewind” bowed at an unkind $91,000 off 95 via BIM Distribuzione. Terry George-helmed drama “Reservation Road” toplining Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly bombed big time with $75,000 from 103 via Warner Bros.

In France, “Crystal Skull” enjoyed the third best bow of the year. Buoyed by some good reviews and plenty of ballyhoo at Cannes, Paramount banked $13.7 million in the first five days on 900.

Down 48% on the week in its third frame, “What Happens in Vegas” has been a pleasant surprise hit for Fox, with a cume of $6.8 million.

“Un Conte de Noel” (A Christmas Tale) has had an excellent bow for Bac, which is well pleased with its perf, sandwiched between summer blockbusters. In competition at Cannes, helmer Arnaud Desplechin’s tale of a family dealing with matriarch Catherine Deneuve’s terminal illness, earned $1.1 million on 101 after five days.

In Spain, “Crystal Skull” bagged a first four day take of $11.8 million at 725 and a $14,455 average. Result was in line with expectations, though sizably down on Spain’s best ever bow, “Spider-Man 3,” which opened May 2006 to a three-day $16.9 million and $16,795 average off 758.

The big question exhibbers were asking themselves was if “Crystal Skull” really has legs, given Spain’s rampant piracy. Bookers’ estimates for movie’s final Spanish haul are around $30 million.

Only a few limited-run freshmen, or holdovers, made any headway against “Crystal Skull.”

Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” was the second strongest bow, released by AZeta Cinema on only 106 copies. “Devil” took $508,505 for a fine $5,242 copy average, placing third.

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

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