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‘MARS’ OUT OF THIS WORLD

Burton pic hits stride at o'seas B.O.

A clever new international marketing campaign is helping to turn domestic underachiever “Mars Attacks!” into a hit abroad, putting director Tim Burton back into the winner’s circle for the first time since “Batman Returns.”

Warner Bros. Intl. junked the U.S. campaign (which pitched it as a star-driven sci-fi vehicle) and is selling “Mars Attacks!” as a comedic romp with promo tie-ins on hip radio stations, stunts such as alien sightings and publicity tours by the helmer following the Berlin fest preem.

The payoff came when it invaded 21 territories last week with meteoric numbers, particularly in France ($4.9 million on 253 prints), the U.K. ($4.5 million in six days on 333), Spain ($1.4 million on 122), Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Belgium (a combined $1.7 million). The cume is $19.3 million.

The Martians stole $1.8 million on 250 in Germany: good, but overshadowed by local click “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” a BVI pickup that has minted a celestial $7.9 million in two weeks. Warner anticipated the German thriller would be big but sensibly went for that date to avoid a collision with the “Star Wars” reissue on March 20. “Mars” had a mixed response in Germany, described by one exhib as “fine” and by another as “not great.” Teutonic auds flocked to freshman “The English Patient” but weren’t wild about “Jerry Maguire,” as one booker noted that films with sporting themes usually don’t play well there.

‘Ransom’ past $150 million

Ron Howard’s “Ransom” has the distinction of becoming the first film to gross $100 million this calendar year; the 1996 release has cumed $150.3 million, paced by Germany’s $18.8 million, the U.K.’s $17.6 million and Japan’s lively $10.2 million through the third round.

With an estimated $95 million in the till, and still to play in Japan and Mexico, Barry Levinson’s “Sleepers” is poised to join the $100 million club. So is Warners’ “Space Jam,” which orbited to $91.1 million, propelled by Spain’s $6.6 million, Italy’s $5.5 million in 13 days and Holland’s $2.4 million in 21 days.

The dependable “Independence Day” climbed to $85.6 million in its lucky 13th round in Japan and $490 million offshore. Cameron Crowe’s “Jerry Maguire” had solid debuts in Switzerland, Norway, Austria and Argentina, lifting the 16-territory total to an estimated $18 million.

‘Patient’ prognosis good

In Italy, where exhibs bemoaned the onset of perfect spring weather, “The English Patient” had an encouraging preem on 33 screens after wide coverage from its Berlin fest screening and generally positive but not glowing notices, which painted it as an old-fashioned romantic saga. “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (retitled “Larry Flynt: Beyond Scandal”) whipped up a media frenzy concerning Catholic groups’ ire over the provocative poster and solid biz in the key cities, but far less interest in the provinces.

“Romeo & Juliet” initialed with an unexceptional $602,000 in five days on 119; its foreign cume is $29.3 million, led by Australia’s $11.2 million, Korea’s $7.3 million and Brazil’s $3.1 million. “The Ghosts of Mississippi” (remonickered “The Ambush”), “Turbulence” and Mira Nair’s “Kama Sutra” all had low-key openings in Italy.

Nicholas Hytner’s “The Crucible” grossed a pleasing $888,000 in six days on 175 in the U.K., but had muted bows in France, South Africa and Switzerland. Jane Campion’s “The Portrait of a Lady” struggled to draw auds against the Fox film in the U.K., the latest in a string of lackluster results that has seen its cume crawl to about $14 million.

Spain likes laughter

In Spain, one exhib proclaimed “comedy remains the favorite genre” as he pointed to “Mars” and a spirited preem by “What Do Women Really Laugh About?,” the directorial debut of screenwriter Joaquin Oristrell. Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You” had a moderately good start in Spain but has racked up $6.8 million in France (the Woodman’s mecca) and a swell $3.1 million in Italy. “Michael Collins” has a moderate $1 million in 13 days in Spain ($24.7 million abroad), perhaps suffering from parallels with the separatist movement in the Basque region.

The Australian B.O. was characterized by one tradester as “very flabby” as only Wes Craven’s “Scream” ($2.9 million in three weeks, off just 6%) remained immune from the overall lethargy. Of the rookies, “Last Man Standing” (foreign cume $23.9 million) was just OK while “The Preacher’s Wife” and “The Evening Star” were blah. One booker said it was curious dating to release the latter two head-to-head as both skew to females. “Breaking the Waves” had a good limited bow, while in their sophomore sessions “The People vs. Larry Flynt” fell by 25% after a modest entry, “Mars Attacks!” tumbled by 36%, and Aussie comedy “Idiot Box” isn’t connecting with the blue-collar auds to whom it is targeted.

“Evita’s” cume rose to an estimated $76 million, driven by a potent preem in Brazil. “Star Trek: First Contact” ascended to $46.8 million in 22 markets and is burning brightly in Brazil ($732,000 in 12 days) but less so in Spain ($595,000 in 13 days).

“Daylight” scored nicely in Greece and its foreign cume hit $115.8 million. “Fierce Creatures” has taken a merry $5.9 million in 20 days in the U.K. but is lukewarm in France ($1.8 million in two weeks), Belgium and Switzerland; its total in six markets is $11.7 million. After a solid perf Down Under, Eddie Murphy starrer “Metro” began its European rollout in fine style in Sweden, a hair below the preem of “The Nutty Professor.”

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