‘Rings’ runs circles o’seas

'Towers' lords as '8 Mile,' 'Catch' start fast

Catch me if you can: That challenge from “The Lord of the Rings” blockbuster was cheerfully accepted by “8 Mile,” “Catch Me If You Can” and “Two Weeks Notice” which began their foreign excursions in dashing style last weekend.

Eminem starrer “8 Mile” actually beat the Middle Earth saga’s third outing in Austria and was a strong No. 2 in Germany. The Leonardo DiCaprio/Tom Hanks conman caper “Catch” unseated “Rings” in its third orbit in Mexico.

“Mile” drummed up $6.1 million on 455 prints in Germany (the fifth-biggest opening locally for a Universal release) and $902,000 on 75 in Austria (UIP’s third best behind “Mission: Impossible II” and “American Pie 2”). “8 Mile” faces an uphill task in Asia, where rapper Eminem isn’t a big star, judging by its moderate bows in Hong Kong ($180,000 on 17) and Taiwan ($157,000 on 52).

“Catch Me If You Can” hoodwinked Mexico to the tune of $2.9 million in five days on 440, 54% ahead of “Cast Away” and the second biggest for helmer Steven Spielberg behind “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.”

Meanwhile, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” become the fifth-highest grosser internationally. It unlocked estimated $28.2 million from 8,000 engagements in 55 countries, elevating cume to $519.6 million and overtaking “Independence Day” on the all-time list.

‘Two’ takes $$

The Hugh Grant/Sandra Bullock romance “Two Weeks Notice” banked $2.8 million in five days on 249 in Australia; its four-day figure was on par with “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and 14.5% ahead of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Embarking on its foreign voyage, domestic misfire “Star Trek Nemesis” beamed up a promising $3.07 million on 426 in the U.K., which ranks alongside Germany as the trekkies’ strongest offshore territories.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” captured an estimated $42.2 million from 7,573 playdates in 35 markets, upping cume to $293.6 million. The sequel is tracking 26% ahead of the first edition, which racked up $232 million at the same stage of its journey. Its estimated stellar totals include the U.K.’s $59.8 million, Germany’s $52 million, France’s $28.4 million, Spain’s $21.6 million and Australia’s $15.1 million through its soph session.

“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” whistled up $1.48 million in five days on 126 in Poland, 22% ahead of the original and the industry’s second biggest debut behind “Fellowship of the Ring.”

The vacation in Japan boosted Chris Columbus’ epic by 41% in its seventh go-round, raking in $6.1 million at the weekend and an awesome $113.1 million so far.

‘Die’ alive

“Die Another Day” hit $184 million, spurred by an $11.7 million frame on 3,820 screens in 53 countries. The 007 adventure took an estimated $1.8 million in six days on 147 in South Korea, 65% of the last two editions, hurt by anti-U.S. sentiment and a row over the way North Koreans are portrayed.

The Pierce Brosnan/Halle Berry starrer did set new Bond benchmarks in New Zealand ($511,000 on 50, Fox’s fourth-highest entry) the Czech/Slovak Republics ($325,000 on 40, a Fox record), Central America and Egypt.

“Minority Report” peaked at $210 million, fueled by Japan’s hefty $31 million through its fifth weekend. “Gangs of New York” has amassed a sturdy $14.3 million after its third in Japan.

Disney’s “Return to Neverland” cruised to $52 million, driven by Japan’s $11.6 million after its third sojourn, where it’s already outgrossed the lifetime cumes of “Atlantis,” “Hercules” and “Pocahontas.”

‘Chick’ limping

Rob Schneider laffer “The Hot Chick” wasn’t so hot in Oz, fetching $1 million on 145, better than “Animal” but below “Deuce Bigalow.”

Platforming in London ahead of its Jan. 17 nationwide roll-out, “Chicago” is building nicely, orchestrating $131,000 in its second stanza (up 2%) and a tony $435,000 so far.

Brazilian gangster pic “City of God” stole $486,000 on 76 in Blighty, including sneaks, hailed by Miramax as the market’s third-highest opening for a foreign-lingo film behind “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Amelie.”