Exhibs shut out when pix peak early

Front-loaded 'Hulk,' ' 2 Fast' create coin for distribs

A superhero, action heroes and a deified Jim Carrey helped rouse the B.O. from its pre-summer lethargy in a bunch of markets last week. But despite muscular bows by “The Hulk,” “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Bruce Almighty,” exhibs gripe that biz is increasingly front-loaded, as in the U.S., so distribs are getting the lion’s share of the pie.

“In Spain, exhibitors have to pay a higher percentage — 60%-during a film’s first weeks. Movies are showing increasingly shorter legs because they go out on so many copies,” said one Madrid programmer. “It’s something that worries us, but we’ve had to get used to it.”

Receipts jumped by 47% in Germany, driven by the combo of rookie “2 Fast” and “Bruce’s” soph session, but the B.O. for the year to date is tracking 13.5% below 2002. One Teutonic booker blames economic conditions rather than a shortage of good product, noting: “There’s been nothing but bad news lately. Recession, growing unemployment, and the government is now talking about cutting state pensions and health insurance services. People are really tightening their belts. Going to the movies and out to eat are generally the first things you cut from your budget.”

Popular on Variety

There were modest increases in Australia (21%), the U.K. (18%), Italy (12%) and Spain (10%), while admissions in France shot up by 123% due to the annual three-day Fete du Cinema, when folks get discounted ducats after buying one full-price ticket. Holdovers “Qui a tue Pamela Rose?” and “The Mystery of the Yellow Room” benefited from the promo.

“The Hulk” posted a Universal opening record in Russia, the distrib’s second-biggest ever in the Philippines and Malaysia and its seventh-highest in Singapore. Helmer Ang Lee’s epic also flexed its muscles in Hong Kong, on par with “X2’s” recent entry, and in Thailand.

Stablemate “2 Fast 2 Furious” revved up $19.8 million from 2,592 engagements in 18 territories June 20-22, and the cume through June 24 raced to $39.6 million, with 30% of foreign markets ahead. John Singleton-helmed actioner opened much bigger than the original in Germany, the U.K., France, Spain, Italy, Holland, Austria and Belgium. One Italo exhib opined the street-racing caper should have gone out on far more than 196 prints, but a Spanish exec said he was hoping for a higher takeoff.

“Bruce Almighty” continued to set personal bests for Carrey preems in Australia and New Zealand (beating “Liar, Liar”) and Taiwan (ahead of “Ace Ventura 2”). The Spyglass/BVI laffer earned tidy sums in its fourth sojourn in Italy and its third in Brazil (still No. 1, off just 11%). “Bruce” has divined $49 million in just 14 markets.

In promising offshore debuts, Eddie Murphy starrer “Daddy Day Care” was a strong No. 2 behind the second lap of “2 Fast” in Mexico (thrashing fellow frosh “Rugrats Go Wild” in its first market) and handy in Brazil.

“The Matrix Reloaded” cruised to $382 million in 62 markets. The sci-fier is still the champ in its third orbit in Japan, amassing $54.8 million, and it’s pocketed a sturdy $1 million in 10 days in India.

“The Italian Job” had a lousy start to its international campaign in Japan, released by indie Herald, and it couldn’t even catch “The Core’s” third frame. Nonetheless, UIP, which has all other rights except Germany, is confident of the remake’s prospects.

“Basic” bombed in Blighty where one exhib said the storyline had no appeal and he doubts John Travolta can carry a film nowadays. Panama-set drug saga has scraped up about $6 million in 10 countries including France and Oz.

“Johnny English” whistled up a jolly $695,000 in five days in South Korea, sending the cume to $112.8 million, with France and Japan ahead.

After pleasing runs in the U.K. and Mexico, “Bringing Down the House” was shut out in Italy. “We didn’t believe in this film and (co-star) Queen Latifah is unknown in Italy,” said one local exhib.

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