‘Bill’ kills competish across Europe, Oz

Tarantino tale keeps 'Passion' at bay; 'Haunted' hot in Japan

The first hot, sunny weekend in parts of Europe this spring zapped ticket sales, taking a bit of gloss off the nonetheless potent bows of “Kill Bill, Vol 2.” But Miramax’s splatterfest met an even more formidable nemesis in Japan: Disney’s “The Haunted Mansion.”

Quentin Tarantino’s vengeance tale captured $18.5 million on nearly 2,400 screens in 21 markets April 23-25 and its cume through April 27 reached $21.8 million. That curtailed the five-week winning streak of “The Passion of the Christ,” which has amassed around $207 million, with Japan ahead.

Uma Thurman starrer was the dominant title in the U.K., Germany, Australia, Italy, Holland, Scandinavia, Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic and Israel. It outgunned the predecessor in most places except Japan, Belgium, Holland and Denmark.

In Italy, where receipts dropped by 30% despite its invasion, one exhib noted the helmer has a sizable cult following and the pic is skewing upscale, performing best in the cities in the north and central regions. In Blighty, one booker said the hot weather depressed the overall biz by 23%, but Tarantino’s film was trading strongly on weekdays and he expected a soph session drop of less than 30%.

Aussie programmers were thrilled with “Bill,” noting it garnered rave reviews and was boosted by an age 15 rating, vs. the original’s 18, and from the latter’s hefty DVD sales. Oz exhibs were a bit disappointed with “Strange Bedfellows,” a local comedy featuring Paul Hogan and Michael Caton as old codgers who pretend to be gay to try to fool the tax man. Mostly dire reviews, some objecting to the gay stereotypes, didn’t help.

Execs in Japan were surprised by “Bill’s” muted entry, which in dollars was 47% below “Vol. 1.” They attributed the drop to the fact that most of the Japanese-related characters were killed off in the original, dampening curiosity in the follow-up.

It had also to fend off surprise interest in “Haunted Mansion,” which posted BVI’s eighth-biggest preem in Japan, its last major market, in yen just 8% shy of “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

The family pic had a high profile as the eponymous theme park attraction is one of the most popular at Tokyo Disneyland, and families relish yarns about ghosts and spirits. Eddie Murphy starrer’s cume raced past domestic’s to $79. 5 million, on track to hit $100 million. “Mansion” has earned tidy sums in Europe, Mexico and Australia but was soft in the rest of Asia.

“Cold Mountain” got a frosty reception in Japan, its last significant market, where it was dated some time back on the false assumption it would have garnered more than one Oscar. Execs in Tokyo opined auds are not interested in American Civil War dramas, or war pics generally, and the local campaign didn’t focus enough on the love story that might have appealed to “young office ladies,” the biggest cinemagoing demo. Its cume peaked at $70 million, trailing domestic’s $95.3 million.

“Starsky & Hutch” was the front-runner in France, Russia and New Zealand but fell heavily after middling preems in Spain and Mexico. Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson headliner has collared a nifty $53 million in 29 markets.

One French exhib said the TV series was fondly remembered as a classic by guys in their 20s and 30s as well as by their parents. It was also boosted by Stiller’s popularity and an Internet campaign, which entailed sending three 40-second spots to 800,000 users.

However, ticket sales in Gaul were off 24%, hurt by the European championship soccer semi-finals, despite “Starsky” and an impressive debut by “Mariages!”, a biting comedy about a couple who marry, divorce and try to reconcile. Helmer is Valerie Guignabodet, whose debut pic “Monique” was well received in 2002.

“50 First Dates” emerged as an appealing date movie in Germany after a glitzy preem in Berlin attended by co-star Drew Barrymore, helping to boost the territory’s B.O. by 24% after many weeks in the dumps.

Romantic comedy opened at No. 1 in Spain (where ticket sales collapsed by 39% to their lowest point this year), Austria, Switzerland, Portugal and Singapore (where it killed “Bill.”) A crowd-pleaser in the U.K., Oz and Mexico, “Dates” has wooed $37.8 million in 27 markets.

After conquering Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, “Hellboy” went 5-for-5, out-muscling “The Hulk” in Thailand and “The Scorpion King” in the Philippines.

“Secret Window” opened at No. 1 in a blah frame in Mexico and plunged in its soph sessions in Italy, Spain and France.

“Dawn of the Dead” ruled in action-oriented Taiwan but was fairly tame in Italy and Spain (against a crunch Real Madrid-Barcelona soccer match) and OK in Brazil.

Lukas Schwarzacher in Tokyo, John Hopewell in Madrid, Sheri Jennings in Rome, Liza Klaussmann in Paris and Ed Meza in Berlin contributed to this report.