Euros turn out for Arnold’s antics

Japan prefers 'Pirates' over Hulks

Europeans escaped the heatwave last week by cooling off in cinemas — but pretty much only those where Arnold Schwarzenegger was strutting his stuff. The notable exception was the U.K., where the latest installments of “Legally Blonde” and “Spy Kids” proved shrewd counter-programming to big Arnie.

Folks in Asia got their kicks from the “Bad Boys” and “Lara Croft” sequels and the Japanese climbed aboard “Pirates of the Caribbean,” all but ignoring fellow frosh “The Hulk.”

The U.K. B.O. shot up by 57%, Germany rose by 32% and Spain improved by 18%. “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” galvanized $39.2 million from roughly 6,300 engagements in 45 markets Aug. 1-3, and the estimated cume through Aug. 5 flew to $153 million. Sci-fier notched the industry’s 17th biggest bow in the U.K., the seventh highest in Spain (benefiting from a Wednesday preem) and the second best this year behind “The Matrix Reloaded” in Germany. “T-3” was similarly brawny in Brazil (No. 5 of all time), Sweden and Austria (No. 13), Finland, South Africa and Israel. With $11.1 million in the till in Russia, it’s now the all-time champ in that burgeoning market, dethroning “The Matrix Reloaded.”

Exhibs in Germany griped that “Terminator” sucked the life out of everything else, while one booker in Madrid said he was hoping for an even bigger debut, noting its screen average was about 20% less than that of “Matrix Reloaded,” which launched on 50 fewer copies.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” unlocked $6.7 million in four days in Japan, BVI’s third highest live-action opening behind “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor,” although trailing the meteoric third outing of local cop action/comedy “Bayside Shakedown 2.”

Swashbuckler reigned in Mexico with $3.1 million in five days, BVI’s third highest non-animated bow after “Bruce Almighty” and “Signs.” After earning $1.8 million in 20 days in Argentina, it’s surpassed “Armageddon’s” lifetime total in local currency.

“The Hulk” sulked in Japan, its second major failure after Germany. Its cume is $88.6 million, with Italy the only significant territory on the horizon.

“Bad Boys II” doubled the original’s entry in Taiwan and was three times bigger than the first in the Philippines. But the buddy cop saga was kneecapped by an 21-and-over rating in Singapore, although 12% up on the predecessor, and by its 18-and-up tag in Malaysia, where “Bad Boys” was banned.

“Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” was feisty in South Korea, on par with the first although behind local rookie “Haunted High,” and it notched Paramount’s biggest opening of the year in Hong Kong. Actioner experienced typical drops in its soph sessions in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

“Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde” bowed 27% bigger than the original in Blighty but it wasn’t great in Belgium, Sweden and Norway, and it plunged after a fair start in Germany. In its offshore preem, “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over” drew plenty of youngsters in the U.K., 14% up on the first edition, positioned to cash in on the school vacation.

“Finding Nemo” caught $1.2 million in six days in China, a toon record outrunning “Dinosaur” and almost doubling “The Lion King.” Pixar/Disney pic cruised to $53.4 million in 19 territories in Asia and Latin America. It’s the most successful animated release ever in Malaysia, Singapore, Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia and is about to claim that title in Mexico.

“Bruce Almighty” soared to $170 million, with France and Japan and sundry smaller markets ahead.

After a lucrative three weeks in Ireland, “Veronica Guerin,” the real-life tale of an Irish journo whose drug trade exposes led to her murder, was just fair in the U.K. Cate Blanchett starrer played much better in the big cities, no doubt drawing expat Irish folks, than in the provinces.

Receipts in France tumbled by 27% despite a decent turnout for “The Cost of Living,” a Gallic bittersweet comedy about attitudes to moolah. It was a blah frame in Oz where local romantic comedy “Danny Deckchair” crashed, despite a wide release and hefty push by Fox for the tale toplining Rhys Ifans and Miranda Otto about a disaffected dude who flies in a chair attached to helium balloons.

(Archie Thomas in London, Ed Meza in Berlin, Liza Klaussmann in Paris, Emiliano De Pablos in Madrid and Sheri Jennings in Rome contributed to this report.)