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Fall color is green

'Sense,' 'Matrix' help spark hot B.O. season

A stirring foreign preem by “The Sixth Sense,” a record-setting blastoff in Japan by “The Matrix” and a Mexican fiesta for “The Haunting” marked a bullish start to the fall season abroad.

Spreading the largess, “Runaway Bride” had lucrative trysts in Latin America and Europe, “Deep Blue Sea” wowed South Korea and the Philippines, and “Tarzan” captivated Australian auds.

All-conquering summer champ “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” looks to cast a long shadow over the fall, nabbing $12 million from 2,788 screens in 24 countries last week. Perched at $354.6 million, it ranks as the sixth-highest earner of all time o’seas, surpassing “Armageddon’s” $353 million. In its ninth orbit, George Lucas’ pic became the third-highest grosser ever in the U.K., reaching $76.2 million, behind “Titanic” and “The Full Monty.”

‘Sense’ over ‘Sea’

“The Sixth Sense” launched in Hong Kong with $830,000 in six days on 27, its weekend score doubling “Ransom” and “12 Monkeys,” and 23% better than “The Fifth Element.” The Bruce Willis starrer proved strong competition for “Deep Blue Sea,” which took a moderately good $516,000 on 28.

In Japan, “Matrix” broke the opening record for a nonholiday weekend and in five days rung up a phenom $13.4 million on 282 screens. Warner Bros. was projecting a seven-day haul of about $15.7 million, which would be the fourth-highest debut ever after “Phantom Menace,” “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Independence Day.”

“The Haunting” materialized in Mexico with $1.7 million in five days on 266, 3% up on “Twister’s” entry and 70% higher than “Dante’s Peak”; the suspenser has garnered a spirited $804,000 in 15 days in Singapore.

‘Runaway’ success

“Runaway Bride” galloped into Brazil with $1.8 million in six days on 259, Buena Vista Intl.’s third-highest bow, eclipsing “Notting Hill” by 47%.

“Tarzan” ($54.2 million cume) muscled into Australia as the third-highest animated bow, behind “A Bug’s Life” and “Toy Story,” positioned to cash in on the school vacation that has just started in some states.

“Wild Wild West” had a nifty but not outstanding launch in Oz, probably affected by “American Pie’s” lusty sneaks.

German doldrums

“Eyes Wide Shut” had a fair opening in the U.K. but was soft in Germany, where it was critically panned, as was John McTiernan’s “The 13th Warrior,” which also struggled. Teutonic exhibs noted only the top three titles — holdovers “Phantom Menace,” “Cruel Intentions” and “Message in a Bottle” — held their own as takings were depressed by hot, sunny weather.

Stanley Kubrick’s sexual drama was comparatively stronger in its initial forays in Taiwan ($843,000 in five days on 55, 17% ahead of “Interview with a Vampire”), Belgium and Austria. After its second round, the Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman pairing has a rousing $1.5 million in Mexico, $1.3 million in Brazil and $894,000 in Argentina; cume is $41 million.