‘Passion’ still heavenly but ‘Dead’ seen rising

Auds showed less enthusiasm for 'Scooby' sequel

In the run-up to the Easter vacation, “The Passion of the Christ” drew plenty of Brits and millions of folks in Latin America last week, while those with more secular tastes flocked to “Brother Bear,” “Starsky & Hutch” and “50 First Dates.”

Auds showed less enthusiasm for “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed,” which had handy but not outstanding bows in nine territories, coming tops in Sweden, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia. Warners’ kidpic didn’t bark as loudly in Thailand, Belgium, Norway, Portugal and Denmark.

The front-runner for the second consecutive frame, “Passion” racked up an estimated $16 million in 36 territories March 26-28, and its cume through March 30 levitated to around $63.5 million. Biblical epic ruled in Blighty, with the benefit of previews, ending “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s'” reign as the best opening for a subtitled title, and surpassing the expectations of exhibs who weren’t so sanguine after its muted reception in Ireland. “It’s such an unusual release; the intrigue factor is massive,” said one booker, who predicts it will wind up with more than $18 million.

Mel Gibson’s drama smashed Fox opening records in Argentina (dethroning “Titanic”), Venezuela (an industry high, outgunning “The Matrix Reloaded”), Uruguay, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. Crucifixion saga reigned in its second chapter in Mexico and in Brazil, where it improved by 4%.

Icon reported No. 1 debuts for “Passion” in South Africa, Norway, Finland and Hungary, but in action-oriented Taiwan it was beaten by “Taking Lives.” Pic fell by 30% in its second coming in Germany, where folks find the explicit violence a turn-off.

In its offshore preem, “Dawn of the Dead” satisfied numerous horror devotees in the U.K., on par with “28 Days Later” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake.

“Starsky & Hutch” romped through its second wide week in the U.K. and launched brightly in Germany, where kids are in the midst of a retro-1970s fad.

“Brother Bear” scampered to $132 million, heading for $150 million. Family pic conquered Spain, its final major market, marking the biggest toon debut in spring locally and in local currency the third best for an animated entry behind “Finding Nemo” and “Tarzan.” “Bear” also reigned in Switzerland and in its second turn in Germany and Austria, and earned tidy sums in its third in Japan and fourth in Italy.

“Peter Pan” notched one of its better openings in Spain, ahead of fellow frosh “Taking Lives,” and fared OK in Greece and Portugal.

Exhibs in Spain are hoping kids will go see the fantasy after their first-choice “Bear.” “Pan” has whistled up a so-so $50.5 million in 48 markets, overtaking domestic’s $48.3 million, including the U.K.’s $16.2 million, France’s $10.2 million and Oz’s $6.2 million.

“50 First Dates” easily took top spot in Australia, repping a career best for Adam Sandler, toppling “Big Daddy.” Sandler/Drew Barrymore vehicle has wooed a decent $1.9 million in four weeks in Russia, where actioners and comedies are the most popular genres.

“Monster” was greeted with critical raves and a sizable turnout on 45 screens in Australia. Serial killer saga toplining Charlize Theron has captured an estimated $7 million in 18 territories, led by Spain’s $1.6 million, Mexico’s $845,000, South Africa’s $752,000, Norway’s $580,000 and Greece’s $490,000.

“The Haunted Mansion” was perky in Italy, trailing Gallic import “Crimson Rivers 2” and Italo holdover “Don’t Move,” and just fair in Holland and Oz. Eddie Murphy starrer’s cume ascended to $64 million and with Japan and sundry smaller markets ahead, is destined to surpass domestic’s $75.5 million.

Winding its tour, “Something’s Gotta Give” didn’t give a lot in Japan, coming in 9% below “What Women Want,” a similar-skewing pic which didn’t click in that market. Helmer Nancy Meyers’ romantic comedy has grossed an impressive $119.5 million.

“Hidalgo” is all over the map abroad, galloping through its third sojourn in Spain, ranking first in Denmark, well beaten by “Scooby 2” in Sweden, corpsing in France and plunging after a mediocre debut Down Under.

“Immortal,” comicbook artist Enki Bilal’s $35 million, English-lingo futuristic fantasy, featuring Linda Hardy, Thomas Kretschmann and Charlotte Rampling, bowed strongly in France but couldn’t dislodge the soph sesh of Gallic boarding-school saga “The Choristes.”

French exhibs doubt “Immortal” will live up to its title as it faced fierce competition with the March 31 arrivals of “The Passion of the Christ” and the Monica Bellucci/Vincent Cassel headliner “Secret Agents.”

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

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