'Revolutionary,' 'Button,' 'Doubt' add screens

LONDON — Oscar hopefuls “Revolutionary Road,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Doubt” expand at the European box office this weekend, where “Valkyrie” is expected to hold well in its major markets and bow brightly in Spain.

In the U.K., “Revolutionary Road” is the highest profile bow in a fairly subdued frame in terms of openers.

U.K. box-office sensation “Slumdog Millionaire” is again expected to hold top spot as the Mumbai-set thriller goes from strength to strength. The pic missed out on top spot in its opening frame, but has been absolutely top dog the past two weekends and should make it a winning hat-trick.

This weekend, bookers project it will bite off another $3 million. Current final cume estimations, which are far over pre-release expectations, range between $36 million and $43 million.

Also expected to hold well is Tom Cruise starring military thriller “Valkyrie,” which has been playing well through the week thanks to decent word of mouth. This weekend, the Bryan Singer pic, which stars a host of leading Brit thesps playing Nazis, is expected to reel in $2 million.

“Revolutionary Road,” which Par sends out on 252, is generating some excitement thanks mainly to the box office allure of “Titanic” duo Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Reviews have been mixed.

At the German box office, Brad Pitt takes on Cruise as Warner’s Oscar hopeful “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” opens against holdover “Valkyrie.”

“Button” is expected to open in top spot. David Fincher’s magical tale has enchanted local critics. “One would not have expected such a beautiful, moving and above all cynicism-free film from either Fincher or Eric Roth. Maybe both of them have not only grown older, but also wiser — and much more warmhearted,” wrote German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Valkyrie” opened at number one last week and is likely to enjoy a long-legged run in Germany.

A slew of local releases also hit theaters, including Constantin’s “Die wilden Huehner und das Leben” (The Wild Chicks and Life), the third instalment in the hugely popular teen franchise based on the book series by Cornelia Funke; Senator’s “Heart of Fire,” Luigi Falorni’s drama about a young girl forced to become a child soldier during the Eritrean civil war; and Berlinale screener “Teenage Angst,” about a group of boarding school friends whose excessive antics lead to violence. In addition, Kinowelt rolls out “Ghost Town,” starring Ricky Gervais; Sony presents “Punisher: War Zone”; and Fox releases “The Rocker.”

In Italy, an upbeat frame sees “Valkyrie” and “Revolutionary Road” debut.

“Valkyrie” bows widest, on 388 via RAI Cinema’s 01 Distribuzione, amid mixed reviews. La Repubblica faulted Cruise’s performance as “flat,” while Corriere della Sera praised Singer for “his courage in not conceding anything to fiction.”

As in Blighty, “Road,” which Universal is launching on 280, is boosted by the enduring B.O. appeal of the leads. “ ‘Titanic’ fans can rejoice that 12 years ago Leo and Kate’s love story sunk in the ocean: here’s what would have happened if they had gotten married,” noted La Repubblica in its rave review.

Meanwhile, Buena Vista Intl. is outing “Doubt” in Italy on 153 amid doubts the priestly pedophilia drama will click in a Catholic country, despite critical kudos and Meryl Streep’s pull.

In Spain, bookers expect “Valkyrie,” which goes out on 400, to open big off the back of Fox’s no-holds-barred publicity campaign spearheaded by Cruise’s tubthumping in the country. However, reviews have been sniffy. “As a historical document, it contributes nothing, as an actioner it is monotonous,” sniped El Pais. “Mission: Impossible III,” the Last Cruise thriller to bow in Spain, did $9 million.

“Valkyrie’s” main competish in terms of openers comes from UPI’s “Role Models” and BVI’s “Doubt.” But both those openings are tame in comparison; “Models” bows on 220 and “Doubt” just over half that number. Holdovers “Seven Pounds” and “Revolutionary Road” are likely to offer a sterner challenge to “Valkyrie” for top spot.

Other bows include Spanish psychological thriller “The Hanged Man,” Abdelatif Kechiche’s 2007 Venice’s special jury prize winner “The Secret of the Grain,” and Diego Musiak’s “Letters for Jenny.”

In France, “Valkyrie” bowed brightly, taking a Wednesday first-day take of $306,680 on 450 for TFM. “It offers a certain old-fashioned pleasure, reminiscent of the war films of the 60s,” praised Liberation.

A pair of local offerings were welcomed by Gallic auds. “Espion(s)” (Spies), freshman helmer Nicolas Saada’s espionage thriller toplining Guillaume Canet, opened well for Mars at $200,000 on 216. “King Guillaume,” helmer/topliner Pierre-Francois Martin-Laval’s laffer about a Frenchman who finds himself heir to a kingdom of five inhabitants on a tiny island off the English coast, enjoyed a cheery reception for Disney, taking $179,520 on 333.

But it wasn’t all easy going for local fare. Generally glowing reviews and a stellar cast of big-name French femme thesps has yet to translate into box office riches for “Le Bal des actrices” (The Actress’ Ball). Helmer/thesp Maiwenn Le Besco’s mockumentary featuring Julie Depardieu, Karin Viard, Charlotte Rampling and eight other leading ladies sort of playing themselves, sees the director “sharing her passion with remarkable modesty and devastating humor,” thought 20 Minutes. But it opened at a modest $126,360 on 116 for SND.

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

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