Opening screen average is year's third highest

Helmer Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” has struck box office gold in Italy.

The fantasy, featuring Heath Ledger’s final screen perf and also toplining Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, has earned $2.7 million in its first weekend — its biggest opening in any territory so far — and scored the country’s third-highest per-screen average in 2009 — a boffo $11,870 — from 227 locations. That put it at No. 2 on the weekend B.O. chart.

Pic preemed at the Rome Film Festival earlier this month before its local bow via Moviemax. By contrast, “Parnassus” pulled in $1.5 million from 330 screens in its first frame in the U.K., the first place it was released, bowing Oct. 16 via Lionsgate. “Parnassus” bowed in Spain this weekend to $333,000 from 73 screens via Sony.

“Almost two years after his death, Ledger has a huge fanbase which, along with the rest of the stellar cast, certainly contributed hugely,” said Moviemax distribution chief Roberto Proia. “We also found out that teenagers massively love Gilliam, and we did not expect this. He really has rock star status.”

Moviemax, which released “Parnassus” in Italo arthouses and multiplexes, will now expand the pic to at least 300 screens.

“Parnassus” will open Stateside on Dec. 25 via Sony Pictures Classics.

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