‘X2’ leads B.O. to second-highest sesh

Sars slows screen mutants in Taiwan

Fox’s gambit of launching “X2: X Men United” day-and-date in 93 markets paid off handsomely — yet despite the mutants’ invasion, Italy experienced its worst weekend of the year and there was a modest 6% uplift in Spain.

Exhibs generally are confident the sci-fier won’t be whacked by “The Matrix Reloaded,” which begins its international rollout May 16. However, some programmers in Spain and Italy believe “X2’s” run will be cut short by the “Matrix” sequel. In the widest-ever worldwide release, the Marvel comic-inspired caper amassed $69.27 million in five days from 7,316 screens, including previews, and its cume through May 6 vaulted to $82.4 million. That was the second-highest opening weekend of all time overseas, beating “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” and trailing only “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” which generated $99.4 million in five days in 27 territories last December.

The sequel opened on average 50%-60% bigger than the original, which wound up grossing $137 million abroad, and appears capable of reaching $200 million. Biz in France spurted by 47%, Hong Kong gained 30% and the U.K. was up 39% (and 50% ahead of the same weekend last year). The Aussie B.O. dipped by 17% only because schools were on vacation through the previous weekend, and one Oz circuit chief hailed “X2’s” figures as “outstanding, way beyond expectations.”

Bryan Singer-helmed pic set company records for Fox in Mexico, Brazil (the industry’s second-best debuts in both, behind “Spider-Man”), Singapore and Venezuela. It was the distrib’s second biggest preems in Thailand and Spain (doubling “X-Men”) and its third highest in South Korea. One German exhib marveled, “It’s a great action movie on many levels: It’s gotten great reviews and appeals to kids and adults. It’s about time we had a solid blockbuster of this caliber.” Perhaps reading more into the pic than the creators intended, critics in Blighty urged auds who aren’t normally attracted to comicbook actioners to check it out for its “topical message about the status of minorities in society.”

In Italy, where the first “X Men” picked up a so-so $4.2 million, one booker rated the followup’s figures merely as “good — in line with our expectations.” It smashed the holdovers including “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “Van Wilder: Party Liaison.” Attendance in Italy and Spain suffered as many folks turned the May 1 holiday into a four-day weekend and headed for the beaches and other diversions. “Torremolinos 73,” a kind of Spanish “Boogie Nights,” had a sexy bow on just 80 prints, but exhibs say the market is still in a slump.

In Japan, the mutants tale started on par with “Die Another Day” and 14% up on the predecessor, which finished with $16.9 million. Exhibs in Hong Kong were thrilled with “X2” considering the SARS virus is still hurting ticket sales and they hope trading will be back to normal when “Matrix Reloaded” unspools May 22. The health scares did impact the Wolverine & Co. in Taiwan.

Gallic exhibs are confident Fox’s blockbuster will hold its own against upcoming competition from “Matrix Reloaded,” swashbuckler Vincent Perez/Penelope Cruz starrer “Fanfan, La Tulipe” (the Cannes fest’s curtain-raiser) and local action-comedy “Gomez and Tavares” toplining rapper-comedian Stomy Bugsy and funny man Titoff.

The frame’s No. 2 title, “Johnny English,” raced to $93.7 million after 27 days of international release, now in 37 markets. Working Title laffer already has overtaken the lifetime U.K. gross of topliner Rowan Atkinson’s previous hit “Bean” as well as the final tally of “Jurassic Park: The Lost World” in Germany.

“How To Lose a Guy” has romanced $24.6 million in 11 territories just three weeks into its campaign. Par/UIP’s romantic comedy proved to be a strong alternative to “X2,” with small drops in its soph sessions in Mexico, Brazil and Switzerland, and in its third sojourns in the U.K., Germany and Austria.

Fox’s film did flatten “Anger Management” in its second weekends in Southeast Asia, and though the Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson starrer plunged in its third course Down Under, exhibs are pleased and say it’s performing pro-rata with the U.S.

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