‘Asterix’ conquers B.O.

Gallic pic grabs 2.8 mil on opening day

PARIS — The most expensive French-lingo pic of all time, Claude Zidi’s $49 million “Asterix and Obelix vs. Caesar,” stormed into the record books Wednesday with an estimated first-day gross of $2.8 million.

The pic, which is a live adaptation of the popular Asterix comic books, already had set a new first by opening on 795 screens. Most major releases in France launch on around 600.

Distributor AMLF said Thursday that with a handful of results yet to come in, some 450,000 people had seen the film Wednesday, which was a school holiday. France’s previous biggest opener, last year’s “Les Couloirs du Temps: Les Visiteurs 2” (The Corridors of Time: The Visitors 2) sold 427,000 tickets on its first day, but only had 622 screens.

Producer Claude Berri has gone on record saying he expects the film to sell at least 10 million tickets, and industry estimates are that AMLF needs at least 5 million entries to cover its minimum guarantee and ad spend. Based on the first day’s results, a conservative estimate would put first-week entries at 2 million.

The French press has positioned the film as a Gallic champion, squaring up to the might of Hollywood. Roberto Benigni, who appears alongside Christian Clavier and Gerard Depardieu, has been suggesting playfully that “Asterix” will be the film that sinks “Titanic,” although it seems unlikely Zidi’s film will match the 20 million tickets sold for “Titanic.”

Local critics have been generally lukewarm in their reaction to “Asterix and Obelix vs. Caesar,” but industry surveys show that kids, particularly those under 14 years old, love the film, which is set to screen to foreign buyers at the American Film Market later this month.

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