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Local ‘Dwarfs’ stomp on Teuton rivals

Spain sees receipts up; U.K., France biz subdued

After a long spell as one of Europe’s sickest markets, the German B.O. is bubbling, prompting one programmer to enthuse last week, “We have a hugely popular comedy with Germany’s most beloved comedian, a sci-fi monster movie and a romantic drama with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez: it’s difficult to top that.”

The exhib was referring to the magical soph session of “Seven Dwarfs” and strong entries by “Alien vs. Predator” and “Shall We Dance.”

The mood among execs was reasonably bullish in Spain, where receipts improved by 7%, but subdued in the U.K. as biz was off by 20%, and Italy, which declined by 16%. A 50% slump in ticket sales in France, a far worse post-vacation attrition than normal, caused angst there.

In a rarity, the weekend’s top earner abroad was a local-lingo production, Teutonic spoof “Seven Dwarfs,” which conjured up $10.6 million on 934 screens in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Through Nov. 9 it had amassed $30.3 million in those three territories.

The only Hollywood title to mint a tad more than $10 million internationally was “Shark Tale,” driven by No. 1 bows in Singapore, Malaysia, Turkey and Colombia, and holdovers elsewhere. Fish tale has hauled in $131 million in 31 territories, and with four key markets including Japan ahead, seems destined for north of $170 million.

“Shall We Dance” opened bigger than “Love Actually” in Germany and was comparable with “Something’s Gotta Give” in Spain. Remake of the poignant Japanese pic was the market leader again in its second turn in Italy and a handy earner in its third in Australia. With an estimated $22 million in the till already, “Dance” looks set to finish well ahead of domestic.

After insipid preems in Asia, “The Grudge” redeemed itself with a top-ranked bow in the U.K., although exhibs consider the Sarah Michelle Gellar starrer could have earned 30% more had local distrib UIP opened it on the Halloween weekend, when it had only “Exorcist: The Beginning” to beat.

Christmas didn’t come early for “Bad Santa” in its offshore preem in Blighty, disappointing some bookers who rated it as ideal for students and opined Sony (which is releasing the subversive comedy in major Euro markets) didn’t market it effectively. “In Ireland, the pic was classified a 15 PG, but we had reports of parents taking their 6-year-olds,” one noted. Exhibs said the Billy Bob Thornton starrer wasn’t hurt by the fact DVDs had been available online for months, reasoning that folks who bought it were unlikely to see it in cinemas.

The dark subject of “Birth” didn’t attract many Nicole Kidman admirers in the U.K. and France, but it resonated better in Greece in its first foreign dates. Word of mouth sustained “Finding Neverland” in its second sojourn in the U.K, drawing older, upscale auds.

“Hero” conquered Australia, boosting its estimated cume to $119 million, with Brazil and Mexico ahead. Martial arts pic helmed by Zhang Yimou overshadowed “The Forgotten” in Oz; however the thriller opened at No. 1 in Brazil.

“Resident Evil: Apocalypse” surpassed exhibs’ expectations in Spain but underperformed in Italy against other male-skewing items including “The Village” (which fell sharply, indicating mixed word of mouth) and a mediocre entry by “DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story.” Zombie pic wasn’t potent in South Korea either, where the market was dominated by local titles. A hit in Japan, France and Mexico but a modest contributor in Oz and Germany, “Apocalypse” has racked up $63 million. “DodgeBall” bounced along to $49.7 million after lusty perfs in the U.K., Spain and Oz and falling flat in France and Germany.

“El Lobo,” a terrorist thriller starring the popular Eduardo Noriega as an undercover agent who pulled off the biggest sting ever against the Basque separatist group ETA, had a muscular entry in Spain after a hefty push from co-producer Telecinco.

“Alien vs. Predator” bared its teeth in Germany, Belgium, Austria, Poland and Sweden, sending its cume to $53.5 million in 24 territories.

In France, Warners wartime romance “A Very Long Engagement” experienced an acceptable drop after its stellar holiday weekend preem. Gallic exhibs and critics welcomed the debut of “L’equipeier,” a dramatic comedy about family and politics, starring Sandrine Bonnaire.

After tanking in Southeast Asia and a mediocre bow in Australia, “The Manchurian Candidate” won few votes in Holland, Sweden and Israel. However, the Denzel Washington starrer showed a bit more appeal in France, pitched to a more academic-type aud. Crix were lukewarm, typified by one who sniffed, “It’s a long remake of a film that was enough the first time around.”

Powered by its second assignment in Japan, “Collateral” hit $100 million, the 21st title to reach that level this year. It will soon be joined by “The Terminal” and “The Bourne Identity.”

Aiming to feed off winning two major awards at the Venice fest, “Vera Drake” launched on 110 screens in Italy, notching a decent average but suffering from the surfeit of quality films on offer. Italo exhibs said British helmer Mike Leigh’s pic might also have been inhibited by a perception that it’s a sad film about abortion.

Ed Meza in Berlin, Archie Thomas in London, Liza Klaussmann in Paris, Sheri Jennings in Rome and Norma Nebot in Madrid contributed to this report.

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