Openers heat up British market

LONDON — Danny Boyle’s Golden Globe champ “Slumdog Millionaire” and fellow openers “Role Models,” “Bride Wars” and “Defiance” heated up already warm U.K. cinema biz as early 2009 trade went from good to great.

Elsewhere at the European box office there was solid if unspectacular business. Highlights include top spot opening bows for “Transporter 3” in Germany, “Twilight” in France and “Seven Pounds” in Italy. Baz Luhrmann’s historical epic “Australia” held top spot in Spain for the third consecutive weekend.

In the U.K., “Slumdog” opened big but could not beat out “Role Models” for top spot. Overall, it was another big frame at the U.K. box office with five films (including four openers) exceeding £1 million ($1.48 million). Cold weather and hot films powered booming biz.

“Slumdog,” which won in all four Golden Globe categories it was nommed in, took $2.7 million at 324 screens at a screen average of $8,369. The result was above upbeat expectations. A London-based booker attributed the success to “a perfectly timed release” and “the groundswell of positive publicity it has received since it closed the London Film Festival.”

“Slumdog” is already on a very wide release via Pathe, which said it will push it out on 330 plus in its second weekend to capitalize on Globes buzz. Exhibs expect the Mumbai-set thriller to play very well through the week as word of mouth combines with post-Globes buzz to drive biz. Given the punchy bow, industryites now expect “Slumdog” to bite off more than $15 million at the U.K. box office.

Sean William Scott and Paul Rudd starrer “Role Models” topped the charts with a boffo bow of $3.5 million at 353 via Universal. The crass Yank laffer clicked well with young multiplex males, also scoring the frame’s best screen average: $9,804. The success of “Role Models” pushed similarly targeted opener “Sex Drive” (E1 Films) into a disappointing 11th spot.

Female-skewed comedy “Bride Wars” placed third with $2.5 million at 410 for Fox. Fourth spot also went to a newbie — Daniel Craig starrer “Defiance” — which bagged $1.8 million at 326 for Momentum.

The flood of successful new pics squeezed the holdovers but Kate Winslet/Ralph Fiennes starrer “The Reader” showed excellent traction. The drama about post-WWII Germany dipped just 14% in its soph sesh to push the running cume to $2.5 million after 10 days. The Entertainment release should show good legs again this week due to Winslet’s double Globe wins. Her emotionally overcharged acceptance speech has been front page news in Blighty.

In Germany, “Transporter 3” easily dispatched Will Smith starrer “Seven Pounds” as crowds rushed to see the latest instalment in the high-octane action series starring Jason Statham. The Universum release soared to the top of the charts, raking in $5 million from 478 — quadruple the opening weekend gross of its 2005 predecessor, “Transporter 2.” “‘The ‘Transporter’ films have done extremely well on DVD and have really built a huge fan base as a result,” noted one exhib.

In second, “Seven Pounds” took in $3.3 million from 467, followed by “Australia,” which added $1.7 million to its $11.3 million cume in its third frame. Falling to fourth place, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” managed $1.3 million for a total cume of $42 million in its sixth week. Rounding out the top five, Warner’s local epic “Buddenbrooks: Decline of a Family” garnered just over $1 million in its third session toward a $6.9 million total. Overall, the German box office fell 7.4%, despite the strong showing by new releases.

In Italy, “Seven Pounds” punched its weight, easily landing the numero uno slot but not the frame’s top per-screen average, which went to “Yes Man.”

Boosted by the popularity of local helmer-gone-to-Hollywood Gabriele Muccino plus strong Will Smith star power, “Pounds” bowed at a muscular $5.2 million off 553 via Sony for a stellar $9,300 per screen take.

“Yes Man,” which Warner Bros. launched in Italy on a more contained 349 screens, nabbed the number two spot, pulling $3.4 million off 349 at a slightly higher $9,600 per-screen average, proving that Jim Carrey also has plenty of faithful Italo fans.

The moderate post holiday Italo frame also saw Stephan Elliott’s Noel Coward adaptation “Easy Virtue” score a solid $811,000 from 126 via Tarak Ben Ammar’s Eagle Pictures. Contempo vampire fable “Let the Right One In,” from Swedish helmer Tomas Alfredson, opened only so-so, despite critical support, drawing $318,00 from 132 via new Italo distribbery Bolero Film. In Italy’s arthouse arena “Waltz With Bashir” bowed nicely, albeit on few screens, pulling a solid $130,000 from just 21 via Lucky Red.

In France, girl-meets-ghoul global smash “Twilight” replicated its success elsewhere with a attention-grabbing $5.6 million on 455 in its first five days for SND. Local laffer “De l’autre cote du lit” also had a good early run for Mars. Toplining Dany Boon (“Welcome to the Sticks”) and Sophie Marceau as role-swapping parents, it earned more than $3.5 million on 578. Fellow opener “Che: Part One” earned Warners $1.6 million on 380 in its first five days.

As in most Euro territories, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” has been the star performer of the winter season in France. Now past the five million admissions mark, its cume up to Sunday stood at $37.4 million for Paramount after six frames.

In Spain, Fox’s “Australia” held top spot for the third weekend on the trot. This frame, it amassed $1.5 million toward a running cume of $11.3 million. Overall, the weekend was dominated by holdover biz.

“Defiance” was the strongest opener, scooping $1.3 million on 281. “These are decent numbers for a movie, which isn’t an easy sell,” reported a local booker. The $4,621 screen average was the weekend’s second best, just behind the $4,957 “Welcome to the Sticks” mustered from 130 sites. That perf landed Wanda release “Sticks” $624,833 and fifth spot in the charts.

In its first outing at Euro wickets, Sean Penn starrer “Milk” took $449,348 on 118. The Universal release, which is in contention for awards glory, scored the third best playdate average of the weekend — $3,928.

Filmax’s opener “Quarantine,” the U.S. remake of Spanish zombie hit “REC,” did okay with a fourth-placed $814,943 from 250. Bookers fear it will quickly fade after its acceptable opening as is usual for horror fare.

Universal’s “Changeling” came in third with a fourth frame drop-off of 38% toward a laudable $9 million cume to date.

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

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