Historical epic gets boost from Spanish success

The unexpected opening in Spain for Alejandro Amenabar’s ancient historical epic “Agora” has resparked interest in the pic in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The Spanish-backed film, toplining Rachel Weisz, has grossed a stunning $17 million in less than two weeks in Spain.

“Agora,” costing upward of $70 million to produce, failed to find a domestic distrib after its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Suitors were drawn to the 4th century-set spectacle centering on the much-celebrated astronomer and mathematician Hypatia but had been concerned about the film’s pricetag and running time (141 minutes).

Spanish helmer Amenabar has since trimmed the pic to 120 minutes, with the retooled version playing last month at the Toronto Film Festival.

At Cannes, 20th Century Fox was among those interested in U.S. rights, but no deal closed. However, the studio’s international arm picked up distribution rights to the pic in Spain and released the film there Oct. 9.

“Agora” scored Spain’s highest opening of the year so far, grossing $7.9 million in its first three days.

Previous best opener in the territory this year was Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” ($4.7 million in three days).

Over the weekend, “Agora” placed No. 10 on the international B.O. chart, grossing $4.9 million. Through Tuesday, film’s cume was north of $17 million.

Historically, foreign buyers are often hesitant to bet on films without U.S. distribution. Now, the tables could be turning. Pics like “Agora” that don’t have domestic distribution could gain traction by performing well in overseas territories, according to industryites.

Amenabar enjoys enormous popularity in Spain, but international B.O. observers say that doesn’t fully explain the film’s box office strength. Based on its early success, pic should travel well to other parts of Europe.

Focus Features Intl., which is repping the film overseas, has sold distribution rights in France, Germany, Scandinavia and Greece. Rights have been sold for Taiwan and Thailand as well.

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