‘Potter’ conjures top summer spot

'Fahrenheit' a hit overseas

Through July 20, “Shrek 2” had devoured an estimated $313 million in 32 markets, more than $100 million ahead of the original’s lifetime haul abroad. “Spider-Man 2” had spun $219 million after 21 days of international release, about $200 million shy of the first Spidey’s grand total.

Now the favorite guessing game in Hollywood is whether the “Shrek” sequel has enough oomph to hit $500 million, and whether the webslinger’s second edition can match or beat the predecessor.

The key to “Shrek 2’s” ultimate destination hinges largely on its reception in Japan, where it launched July 24, and in Italy, where it’s dated for Christmas. Last week the two juggernauts were cannibalizing each other in Germany, where they went out a week apart to get ahead of the July 22 bow of helmer Michael Herbig’s “(T)Raumschiff Surprise,” a “Star Trek” spoof which follows his “Manitou’s Shoe,” an $80 million phenom in Germany.

Zapped by the first hot, sunny weather after weeks of rain, the German B.O. plunged by 47% during the July 15-18 frame, dragging down both U.S. pics. Yet both are “must-see” for most viewers, according to one exhib, who predicts long runs and notes, “A lot of people are on holiday and traveling, but they will undoubtedly get around to seeing these films.”

Spidey has been squeezed by DreamWorks’ toon in Australia and by the amazingly resilient “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” in Japan, which easily regained pole position in its fourth stanza.

Sony’s super hero saga captured $62.2 million from around 9,400 screens in 57 markets July 16-18 (a company record overseas), and has yet to play in Italy and sundry smaller markets. Sam Rami-helmed adventure seized the top spots on debut in 10 markets, including the U.K., France, Spain, Portugal and Israel. However one booker in Madrid doubts Spidey will outperform the ogre in Spain, opining, “I think audiences see him more as an American comic book character, while ‘Shrek 2’ may have more international appeal.”

Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst headliner opened fractionally below the original in Belgium and Holland, blamed by the distrib on hot weather which flattened ticket sales. Pic already has outgrossed the first edition in 10 territories including Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, Honh Kong, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, but won’t reach the predecessor’s total in Germany or Oz.

In a promising start to its offshore crusade, “King Arthur” took the crown in Australia, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia, and while it was valiant in New Zealand, it couldn’t dethrone the Spidey and “Shrek” holdovers.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” continued to generate heat overseas, virtually going SRO in sneaks in Australia as a primer for its July 29 bow there, opening strongly in Argentina and maintaining momentum extremely well in its soph sessions in the U.K., France and Belgium.

Will Smith starrer “I, Robot” blitzed Thailand, whipping up $1.2 million in five days on 200 screens, marking Fox’s fourth biggest preem locally. Sci-fier is slated for Europe in August/September.

“Prisoner of Azkaban” minted an estimated $19 million from around 6,300 screens (down just 12% on the prior weekend), and its cume flew to $441.9 million, the No. 1 film of the summer overseas. It’s tracking 4% below “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (which made $656 million) and 5% down on “Chamber of Secrets” ($615 million) at the comparable stage of their foreign adventures. Hogwarts conjured $ 6.2 million in five days on 302 in South Korea, including previews, rated as 45% higher than the first edition and 17% better than the second.

Skipping into first significant territories, “Garfield” was tops in family-friendly Mexico, a solid No. 2 in Brazil and a fair fourth in Argentina.

After dull debuts in in France and Italy, “The Stepford Wives” shone in Oz, hooking Nicole Kidman’s admirers. But the Frank Oz-directed remake was a meager draw in Germany. Italo receipts dropped by 27% off a low base as one exhib griped, “What can you do? We have the structure, we have the multiplexes, we just need more product to stimulate audiences to go to the movies.”

Chinese helmer Zhang Yimou’s epic “House of Flying Daggers” nailed a socko $6.6 million in its first three days on 360 prints in China, hailed as an industry record, and conquered Taiwan.

Ed Meza in Berlin, Lupe Rivola in Madrid, Sheri Jennings in Rome and Liza Klaussmann in Paris contributed to this report

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