BAFTA nominations boost B.O.

LONDON — The highlight of this weekend at the European box office promises to be a red-hot holdover perf by awards season darling “Slumdog Millionaire” in the U.K.

In terms of openers, expanding Will Smith drama “Seven Pounds” drives into major markets France, Russia, Spain and the U.K. this weekend. Elsewhere, Oscar hopefuls, including “Revolutionary Road” (Germany) and “The Wrestler” (U.K.), get stuck into selected Euro wickets ahead of the Oscar nominations announcement.

In the U.K., there are four promising openers, but all anyone can talk about is the fantastic box-office performance of Danny Boyle’s Mumbai-set thriller “Slumdog,” which followed up on its standout four Golden Globe wins last Sunday with a leading 11 BAFTA nominations Thursday.

The awards season heat for “Slumdog” has been generating loads of excitement at the U.K. box office, where the pic is going from strength to strength. Thanks to superb word-of-mouth and building want-to-see momentum, advance bookings for this weekend are up a stunning 150% on last weekend’s opening frame. And that is after it has done socko biz through the week, especially on Wednesday, when, assisted by the long-running Orange Wednesdays offer, it bit off £500,000 ($750,000).

The bumper perf so far has bookers predicting it will take top spot in its soph sesh and end up with a final cume of $27 million. “It could have been an arthouse release but it has become a huge crossover hit,” commented a London-based booker.

Newbies barking at “Slumdog” are Mickey Rourke starrer “The Wrestler,” “Seven Pounds,” “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” and kids’ movie “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” All are expected to make a good impact as U.K. box office biz — up 10% so far on same period 2008 — continues to surge.

Awards season heat and very strong reviews should help “The Wrestler” to a good opening, with bookers projecting $1.2 million from its 278 screen opening via Optimum. “The campaign is good, although do women know they’ll love it?” questioned one exhib, adding, “Sure, it is violent and about the macho sport of wrestling, but it’s also a great relationship film.”

Reviews like this from the London Times should help though: “Surely Mickey Rourke must lift the Oscar. His performance as a broken-down wrestler who can’t let go of his glorious past is the most honest thing he’s done.”

Smith is a box-office banker in Blighty and therefore Sony release “Seven Pounds” is expected to go well from some 400 screens. That despite horrible reviews — “Surviving ‘Seven Pounds’ may require a lobotomy,” joked the Daily Telegraph. Nevertheless, industryites are expecting more than $2.5 million and hoping for $3 million.

Lionsgate U.K. release “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” (Disney) are both expected to top $1.5 million. “Chihuahua” should benefit from the recent dearth of films released for kids. “Valentine,” which has been given a bullish promo push, goes out on 89 3-D screens and 104 2-D screens day-and-date with the U.S.

In Germany, opener “Twilight” looks certain to suck up most of the box office blood. Going out via Concorde, Catherine Hardwicke’s romantic blockbuster is expected to attract hordes of screaming teens, and then some. Praising Hardwicke’s body of work, Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel said the director was “predestined for the material and unveils in ‘Twilight’ magical, enigmatic and romantic images of a mysterious and mist-shrouded world.”

While Paramount’s Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio starrer “Revolutionary Road” will likely play well with older crowds, exhibs reckon “Twilight” will have the advantage, thanks to the large youth vote. Also providing an alternative to the romantic antics of Edward and Bella is last year’s Palme d’Or winner from Laurent Cantet, “The Class,” also going out via Concorde. Additional openers include Shamim Sarif’s South African love story “The World Unseen” (Pro-Fun); Nikhil Advani’s chopsockey Bollywood epic “Chandni chowk to China,” going out via Rapid Eye Movies; Lars von Trier’s “The Boss of it All” (Alpha Medienkontor); and Kinowelt’s “Saw V.”

In Italy, “Australia” is launching on a wide-ranging 540 amid mixed reviews, but a pretty clear field, which should see the Fox blockbuster dock in the top spot. While Corriere della Sera blasted the Baz Lurmann epic as “infinitely long and overly ambitious,” La Repubblica called “Australia” “fun and engaging entertainment.” Nicole Kidman remains a big draw with Italo auds.

Italy’s second-biggest opener is “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” out on 275 playdates, 42 of which are 3-D equipped, via 01 Distribuzione. Corriere called the action-adventure a “pleasurable regression.”

The Italo frame’s other sizeable bow is “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” which is out on 250 via Buena Vista with buono prospects.

Medusa is outing local horror pic “Imago Mortis” on 160. The pic, which stars Oona and Geraldine Chaplin, has been unanimously panned.

Italy’s arthouse arena sees Ed Harris-helmed Western “Appaloosa” bow on 40 via 01 Distribuzione with copious critical plaudits.

In Spain, Sony opens “Seven Pounds” on 322 to mixed reviews. “Muccino and Smith don’t beat about the bush; they want theaters awash with tears … and that’s what they get,” said El Pais. “Standard fare,” dished La Vanguardia. Industryites project a $3 million opening based on the great popularity of Smith.

Opening on 285, Fox’s romantic comedy “Bride Wars” looks like the main challenger for top berth this weekend. “It’s a mediocre film, but with all the right ingredients to cause a bit of a stir,” said monthly Fotogramas.

Spain, a territory with a healthy appetite for horror fare, is the first European territory to get David S. Goyer’s “The Unborn,” which opens on 208 via Universal. “A never-ending rehash,” dissed El Periodico, whilst El Pais really stuck the boot in: “The most lamentable exorcism in history.” However, bookers don’t predict genre fans will pay much attention to the crix and predict a $2 million bow.

Alta opens Spanish production “The One-Handed Trick” on 108. Helmed by first-timer Santiago Zannou, “Trick” is a portrayal of life lived on the edge of a multicultural backwater of a Spanish city. Other bows include Cannes winner “The Class,” chosen by El Pais as its movie of the weekend.

In France, “Seven Pounds” showed that Smith’s endearing qualities are enduring for auds, making Sony $367,450 on 343 opening day.

“Afterwards” — French helmer Gilles Bourdos’ English-language supernatural thriller toplining John Malkovich and Romain Duris — opened reasonably well at $159,500 on 250 for Mars.

“Slumdog Millionaire” had a somewhat subdued launch. Opening for Pathe on only 126 screens — fewer than half the number in Blighty — its first-day take was only $154,650, despite mostly very positive reviews.

Daniel Craig starrer “Defiance” bowed poorly for Metropolitan. The wartime resistance drama managed only $141,200 on 238. “It’s really quite disappointing, and we really don’t know why,” said Metropolitan marketing rep Sebastian Chenard.

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

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