Animated pic holds strong at foreign box office

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” remained robust in the top weekend slot at the international box office with $31 million at 6,211 playdates in 58 markets, finishing the year with back-to-back victories.

The “Madagascar” sequel topped Fox’s expansion of “Australia,” with Baz Luhrmann’s pricey epic pulling in a respectable rather than blockbuster $26.1 million at 4,500 in 51 territories amid launches in 45. The weekend pushed “Australia’s” foreign cume to $46.2 million — $2 million above the disappointing domestic total — so international holdover biz will be crucial in coming weeks.

Best “Australia” figures came from openings in Spain with $4.4 million, France with $4.3 million and Germany with $3.7 million; the U.K. launch was a more modest $1.8 million. Oz was the top grosser for “Australia” with $16.2 million in five weeks.

Fox also saw decent numbers for “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” which continued to connect overseas with $20.3 million at 6,500 in 62 markets, led by its $5.7 million opening in South Korea. The sci-fi remake has crossed the $100 million mark in overseas grosses, eclipsing the Stateside total by $37 million.

Disney’s day-and-date launch of “Bedtime Stories” pulled in respectable family biz with $13.5 million at 2,002 in 15 markets, led by $2.9 million in Germany. Warner Bros.’ “Yes Man” received a positive response with $9.1 million at 1,385 in 14 territories, scoring its top figure in the U.K. with a $3.4 million debut.

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” underlined the potent drawing power of animated toons, generating nearly all of its Christmas weekend take from holdovers. Its second Italian frame topped the takes with $7 million, up 10%, and its third French frame rose 13% to $6.1 million.

“Escape 2 Africa” has now hit $278 million overseas, tying it for eighth biggest foreign grosser of 2008 with “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.” It opens in China on New Year’s Day.

Overall foreign biz for the six majors has stayed solid and looks likely to match the record-setting 2007 total of $9.5 million — an impressive achievement given the relative strength of the dollar.

Family fare also showed long legs with Disney’s “Bolt” fetching $6.5 million at 2,300 in two dozen markets, led by a 13% gain to $1.8 million in its Mexican soph sesh. “Bolt” also opened impressively in China with $700,000 in 135 venues — all 3-D, which allowed the toon to be released outside China’s 20-picture annual quota for foreign films.

“The Tale of Despereaux” chipped in with a moderate $5 million at 1,815 in 10 markets, with Universal opting for a staggered release over the next four months. The fourth frame of Disney’s “Wall-E” led in Japan with $2.1 million, pushing foreign cume to $289.5 million.

Summit’s “Twilight” continued scaring up overseas biz with $7.7 million at 2,690 to lift the foreign take to $81 million and the worldwide total to $248 million.

Aside from “Australia” and “Bedtime Stories,” most new domestic titles saw openings in a few markets, mainly in the Southern Hemisphere. Warner launched “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” solely in Australia with $2.3 million at 307; Fox opened domestic leader “Marley and Me” with $1.7 million at 207, mostly from a $1.4 million Brazilian debut; Sony saw “The Spirit” conjure up $3 million at 580 in Italy and Spain while “Seven Pounds” weighed $1.3 million in its Brazilian launch; and U’s “Frost/Nixon” took $280,000 at 71 in Australia and New Zealand.

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