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‘Passion’ reigns in Spain, palls in Gaul

Mel's pic benefits from creative tubthumping

Folks in Spain embraced Mel Gibson’s crucifixion saga more fervently than auds in France last week due to a host of reasons including different censorship ratings and churches’ and critics’ reactions.

“The Passion of the Christ” was No. 1 in Spain, marking the second-biggest preem this year behind “The Last Samurai.” Its 18-and-over tag is merely a recommendation, so there was a sizable turnout from teenagers.

Distrib Aurum enlisted the support of the Catholic Church plus Catholic and other conservative media, a smart strategy which resulted in priests and evangelists bringing their flocks in scores to screenings, and exhibs were expecting boffo biz during the 10-day Easter vacation.

Critics offered mostly raves except for the liberal daily El Pais, which sniffed that Gibson had converted Christ into a “refined, big-business, horror pic puppet.”

In France, where receipts jumped by 28%, the religious drama was beaten by the third week of Gallic heartwarmer “Les Choristes” and also faced competition from “Secret Agents,” toplining the country’s favorite movie couple, Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci.

Nonetheless, bookers rated “Passion’s” numbers as “a good score considering it appeals to a very particular audience and it’s not an easy film to sell,” amid the controversy which followed the MK2 loop’s refusal to play the pic and condemna-tion by the archbishop of Paris.

The audience is limited in France by the age 12 rating, and the crix were severe, one railing at its “incredible ugliness and abysmal stupidity” while another called it a joke which the Monty Python creators couldn’t have done better.

Gibson’s epic opened impressively in South Korea (the first U.S. release to claim top spot this year in a market that’s been dominated by local blockbusters), the Philippines (Fox’s second-biggest entry and the industry’s fifth), Hong Kong, Singapore, Holland, Sweden, Denmark and the Middle East.

It held stoutly in its soph sessions in the U.K., Argentina and Venezuela and in its third chapters in Brazil (still No. 1), Mexico, Chile, Peru and Cen-tral America.

The front-runner for the third consecutive frame abroad, “Passion” rang up an estimated $28 million in 43 territories April 2-4, and its cume crossed $100 million April 5.

After launching April 7 in Italy and, with the benefit of the Easter break, pic is likely to surpass $125 million by April 12 and is tracking well enough to reach $200 million, depending partly on how it plays next month in Japan.

Meanwhile “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Un-leashed” and “The Cat in the Hat” squared off in a bunch of markets, with the former as the emphatic winner everywhere except Australia.

The “Scooby” sequel ruled the U.K. (although disap-pointing exhibs who say it lacks the “intrigue factor” of the original), Mexico, Greece and New Zealand.

The Mystery Inc. gang also opened perkily in Spain, Oz, Brazil and Argentina but bombed in Germany, where kids are cozying up to “Brother Bear,” which retained the lead in its third outing. Warners’ caper has rustled up a fair $23.5 million in 37 territories.

“Cat” had a mediocre bow in Blighty but was trading briskly on weekdays, and also did brightly Down Under. However, the Mike Myers starrer tanked in France, Belgium, Scandinavia, Greece and Norway; it’s milked a skimpy $12 million in 27 terri-tories after failing to catch on in Mexico, Brazil and Southeast Asia.

“Brother Bear” climbed to $141.5 million overseas and more than $225 million world-wide on the back of handy holdover biz in Germany, Aus-tria and Japan, although it tumbled in its second turn in Spain due to the competition.

“Peter Pan” conjured up decent numbers in Mexico but was dismal in Germany and not much better in Italy, playing young and failing to draw teens. Fantasy has amassed $56.3 million, with Japan the only remaining major market.

Italo B.O. plunged by 27% as exhibs fingered escalating DVD piracy, unremarkable product and what one exec characterized as “consumer fatigue.”

Receipts in Germany slid by 16% despite a sturdy second outing for “Starsky and Hutch” as one booker griped, “The box office is down significantly for lack of better films.”

“Gothika” attracted plenty of genre fans in the U.K., where the B.O. spiked up by 41%, and in Sweden but was tame in South Korea. Halle Berry starrer has mustered $60.1 million in 50 markets, edging past domestic’s $59.6 million, with Aus-tralia and sundry small fry ahead.

“Dawn of the Dead” opened passably in Mexico and held well in the U.K. despite the arrival of “Gothika.” The Oscar for Charlize Theron helped ensure a potent bow for “Monster” on 60 prints in the U.K. and a superb second week in Oz; serial killer saga has captured about $9 million in 19 markets.

“50 First Dates” was tops in Thailand, marking the best entry for a romantic comedy locally, and in its second en-gagement in Australia.

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

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