Mel’s cross of gold

'Passion' leads o'seas B.O. for third week

Folks in Asia and Latin America seem more fervent about Mel Gibson’s crucifixion saga than auds in parts of Europe, judging by the pic’s sturdy but not celestial bows in France and Spain last weekend.

Meanwhile, WB’s “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” and U’s “The Cat in the Hat” squared off for the kids’ and family business in the run-up to Easter, with Warners’ caper the emphatic victor everywhere except Australia.

The front-runner for the third consecutive frame abroad, “The Passion of the Christ” minted an estimated $25.4 million in 43 territories, driving its cume to $80.4 million. Mel Gibson’s epic reigned in Spain, ringing up $3.2 million on 300 screens, the market’s second-biggest preem this year behind “The Last Samurai.”

Execs in Madrid said the numbers would have been higher if millions of Spaniards hadn’t headed for the coast Friday evening for the 10-day Holy Week vacation; the 18-and-over certificate, which, as it’s merely a recommendation, didn’t stop many teens from attending; and the rare use of subtitling for a mainstream film.

Nonetheless, one booker lauded the per-screen average as “very, very strong,” predicting “it will continue to draw huge crowds through Holy Week.”

Icon reported “Passion” posted $3.9 million on 502 in France, but estimates from other distribs had the pic at $3.5 million.

‘Choristes’ sings to No. 1

Gallic heartwarmer “Les Choristes” orchestrated $3.8 million in its third stanza, upping its cume to a socko $14.9 million. Almost certainly “Choristes” was No. 1, selling 548,000 tickets vs. “Passion’s” 500,000.

Biblical story generated $2.5 million in its soph session in the U.K. (easing by just 21%), spurring the market total to a superb $10.5 million. But it’s sparked a lot less interest in Germany, collecting $6.5 million through its third chapter.

Religious drama rang up a uniformly impressive $603,000 on 97 in Holland, $440,000 in Sweden and $307,000 in Denmark. It nabbed $2.3 million on 157 in South Korea, marking the first U.S. pic to bow at No. 1 this year in a market that’s been dominated by local blockbusters.

“Christ” commanded $904,000 on 132 in the Philippines (Fox’s second-biggest entry and the industry’s fifth), $569,000 on 39 in Hong Kong (the strongest debut for a U.S. studio release in ’04), and $577,000 on 32 in Singapore.

Through its third chapters, crucifixion saga has amassed $14.5 million in Mexico, Fox’s third-highest grosser behind “Ice Age” and “Titanic,” and $7.9 million in Brazil, the distrib’s second biggest after “Titanic.”

Unleashed in 27 markets, the “Scooby” sequel rustled up $15.9 million, hoisting cume to $18.1 million in 35 countries. Family pic ruled the U.K., fetching $6.5 million on 489, including sneaks, and Mexico, devouring $2.5 million on 604.

The Mystery Inc. gang opened solidly in Spain ($1.1 million on 291), Australia ($1 million on 245) and Brazil ($914,000 on 280), topped the charts in Greece and New Zealand but bombed in Germany.

‘Cat’ out of the bag

“The Cat in the Hat” collared a mediocre $3.2 million on 442 in Blighty, including sneaks, and $1.2 million on 299 Down Under. The Mike Myers starrer tanked in France and was soft in Belgium, Denmark, Greece and Norway. It’s scraped up a skimpy $9.6 million in 21 territories after making little impression in Mexico, Brazil and Southeast Asia.

“Brother Bear” added $6.4 million to its honey pot, advancing to $140.7 million overseas and $225 million worldwide. Disney’s toon has mustered a fine $12.1 million after its fourth outing in Japan, $11 million through its third in Germany (still No. 1) and $4.4 million in 10 days in Spain (tumbling by 44% due to the competition).

“Peter Pan” conjured up a decent $1.3 million in five days on 314 in Mexico, an insipid $677,000 on 257 in Italy and a dismal $497,000 on 593 in Germany. Cume hit $55.5 million, with Japan the only remaining major market.

‘Gothika’s’ got U.K.

“Gothika” scored a hearty $2.6 million on 306 in the U.K. and a passable $261,000 on 51 in Sweden, but wasn’t potent in South Korea. Halle Berry starrer garnered $6.1 million at the weekend, upping the cume in 50 markets to $54.6 million, and with Australia and sundry small fry ahead, will easily overtake domestic’s $59.6 million.

“Dawn of the Dead” scared up a so-so $647,000 on 203 in Mexico, with previews, and fell by an acceptable 35% to $2 million in the U.K., bringing its 10-day tally to a nifty $7.3 million.

Sony hailed “50 First Dates’ ” $435,000 bow on 87 in Thailand as the market’s best ever for a romantic comedy, and the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore starrer retained the lead in Oz, wooing nearly $2 million in its second stanza (off 12%), pushing the territory total to $4.8 million.

Beginning its foreign travels, Johnny Depp starrer “Secret Window” opened to a fair $385,000 on 129 in Russia.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” peaked at $1.1 billion globally as the foreign cume reached $725.2 million, including Japan’s stellar $82.8 million.

“Something’s Gotta Give” ascended to $125.1 million, aided by Japan’s respectable $4 million in nine days, slipping by 15% in its last major stop.

(John Hopewell in Madrid contributed to this report).

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