‘Chicago’ still buoyant in as auds watch war

Exhibs last week were blaming TV coverage of the Iraq conflict, a shortage of must-see Hollywood films and, in Europe, terrific weather for plunging ticket sales.

The downturn is being cushioned to an extent by post-Oscar bounces for “Chicago.” Also helping are strong local product in Spain, France and Australia and the perf of Gallic actioner “Taxi 3” in Taiwan. One Italo booker said he believes folks will tire soon of watching the war on TV and return to cinemas.

The top grosser in the March 28-30 frame, “Chicago” scored $7 million from 2,938 engagements in 40 markets, lifting its cume to $80.8 million. Tuner gave Miramax its best-ever debuts in South Korea ($1.2 million on 150, surpassing “Shaolin Soccer”) and South Africa ($257,000 on 41), and the awards kudos paid off with healthy spikes in the U.K., Australia, continental Europe and Argentina.

“The Recruit” commanded the top spots in the U.K., Italy, Belgium and Holland. However, one Italo exhib opined the spy thriller would have opened 30% bigger if the market were not so weak. Weekend biz in Italy dropped by 13% after slumping 31% the previous weekend.

The Al Pacino/Colin Farrell starrer held pretty well in Spain against the jaunty bow of “El Oro de Moscu” (“The Moscow Gold”), a heist farce featuring a virtual who’s-who of Spanish comic talents, led by Santiago Segura. Despite vast local media coverage of Pedro Almodovar’s original screenplay Oscar, re-release of “Talk to Her” on 107 screens in Spain was hardly worth it. Three statuettes for “The Pianist” gave Roman Polanski’s drama a nice nudge in the U.K. and Australia, but its re-issue in Italy was little-noticed.

“Daredevil’s” estimated earnings through April 1 hit $50 million in 34 territories, including New Regency markets South Korea and Switzerland. Ben Affleck starrer saw dashing debuts in the United Arab Emirates, South Africa and Denmark but plummeted in its soph sessions in Australia, France and Germany. “People don’t seem too thrilled to see a violent film about an American vigilante who takes the law into his own hands. It’s just not the right time,” opined one Teutonic programmer.

“The Jungle Book 2” was the king of Austria and of Germany, where the original is a much-loved classic and tykes were thirsting for kid-friendly fare. Toon has drawn a tidy $37.1 million in 29 markets and looks destined to pass $80 million.

“Ned Kelly,” Working Title/Universal’s bushranger tale starring Heath Ledger, notched the fourth biggest opening for a local pic in Australia, although it was about 15% less than some exhibs had hoped.

In France, where receipts dropped by 11%, cross-dressing laffer “Chouchou” reigned in its second lap. “Strange Gardens” from Gallic helmer Jean Becker, a tale of a child confronting the horrors his father experienced in WWII, saw a reasonable turnout, while Roberto Benigni’s “Pinocchio,” given an inexplicably wide release, pulled few strings.

“The Hours” advanced to $34 million in 41 countries, driven by Germany’s solid arthouse preem, France’s handy second week, Italy’s fourth and Spain’s fifth.

“Catch Me If You Can” was down a moderate 26% in Japan, pocketing $10.3 million in 12 days, and its cume raced past domestic’s to $163.2 million. “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” regained the lead in its sixth orbit in Japan; its cume is a lofty $556 million.

In view of its soft domestic launch, “The Core” wasn’t a total disaster in Spain and Mexico, but it misfired in the U.K., where one exhib mused that auds “just don’t fancy disaster movies as entertainment at present.” “Cradle 2 the Grave” showed some muscle in Australia and Thailand but was buried in Blighty (“a victim of the flat market,” said the exhib) and Japan.

Sheri Jennings in Rome, John Hopewell in Madrid, Liza Klaussmann in Paris, Ed Meza in Berlin and Archie Thomas in London contributed to this report.

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