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Summer super ‘Star’

'Menace' soars; 'Mummy' wraps up in Italy

In a blistering finish to the summer B.O. season abroad, “Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace” rocketed to No. 10 on the list of all-time grossers outside North America, while “The Mummy” jolted Italy out of its catatonic state and Roman Polanski’s “The Ninth Gate” had dashing debuts in France and Spain.

Adding juice to an eventful frame, the “South Park” feature drew numerous fans of the TV series as well as the uninitiated in the U.K., but was so-so in France where the show has a limited audience on pay TV. “Runaway Bride” set bells ringing in Australia and Singapore and “Message in a Bottle” showed plenty of fizz as it uncorked in Germany.

“Phantom Menace’s” foreign cume soared to $317.9 million through Sept. 2 after snaring $29 million from 3,347 screens in 27 countries, leaving in its wake “Ghost” ($300 million), “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” ($305 million) and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” ($312 million). Now it’s closing in on the original “Star Wars” ($337 million). How high can it fly? Given its stamina in major Euro markets, it appears to have a good shot at reaching the level of “Independence Day.”

In its second weekend, George Lucas’ galactic adventure dipped by 39% in Germany, 37% in Spain and just 20% in Sweden. Its $1.4 million opener on 92 screens in Switzerland was good but no record-breaker, 18% below “Independence Day.”

Entering Italy, its last major market, “The Mummy” raked in a phenom $6.8 million in six days on 366 (including previews), hailed by UIP as the third-highest bow since 1994 behind “Independence Day” and “Titanic.” Cume is $216.5 million.

‘Gate’ opening

“The Ninth Gate,” a detective thriller toplining Johnny Depp, got a critical panning in France, but Polanski’s drawing power helped ensure a sturdy opening — although it clearly suffered from negative word-of-mouth as it began its second lap. In Spain, the pic benefited from being based on a popular novel by Spanish author Arturo Perez Reverte and having been lensed in that country. “Gate” wasn’t unhinged by going out in the slipstream of “Phantom.” As one Madrid booker observed, “People go to the cinema come rain or shine, if there are interesting titles to see.”

John McTiernan’s “The 13th Warrior” plunged by a worrying 49% in its soph session in France and was no hero in Argentina, but had a solid second in Belgium. The Gallic distaste for remakes — especially of their own films — resulted in an indifferent response to “Le Schpountz,” Gerard Oury’s retelling of Marcel Pagnol’s classic 1938 comedy about a naive, small-town dreamer who wants to get into the movies.

“Runaway Bride” had dandy debuts in Australia (although its four-day tally was 22% behind “Notting Hill’s”) and Singapore, where its $485,000 dowry on 27 was nearly double that of “Notting Hill” and fractionally ahead of “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

Mixed ‘Message’

Kevin Costner’s female admirers in Germany came out in force for “Message in a Bottle,” which has cumed a moderate $51.1 million with just a few small markets to come. Teutonic auds also flocked to “Cruel Intentions,” drawn by positive reviews and its sexy young stars.

In the U.K., “Never Been Kissed” started sweetly but “Life” was anemic while “The Thomas Crown Affair” eased by 21% after a mediocre first week and “Mickey Blue Eyes” tumbled by 31% for a respectable $4.6 million in 13 days.

“Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” (cume: $62.1 million) had a fairly snappy bow in Japan, despite “The Matrix,” which was sneaked Aug. 28 with terrific results (a record for WB) ahead of its Sept. 11 launch. “Matrix’s” cume towers at $189.1 million. “Entrapment” moved up to $111.7 million, spurred by Japan’s potent $9.9 million nearing the end of its third lap (abating by just 20%). “Elizabeth” had a classy preem on 85 screens in Japan and its cume topped $34 million.

Swinging along

Tracking 7% ahead of “Aladdin,” 26% up on “A Bug’s Life” and 32% better than “Mulan,” “Tarzan” has taken $52.5 million, with plenty of upside when it hits Australia Sept. 9 and Europe in the fall. Among Disney’s animated canon, the man-among-apes tale is running behind only “The Lion King” — by just 16%.

Early in its foreign campaign, “Inspector Gadget” had a soft landing in Hong Kong but it has gripped the public imagination in South Korea, arresting $2.1 million through its third weekend (off by an acceptable 33%). The consistent “Notting Hill” racked up an estimated $11.8 million, hoisting its tally to about $165.8 million.