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‘Return’ of the auds

'King' holds off 'Samurai' for o'seas crown

New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” remains ruler of the foreign box office with $35.3 million in its fourth weekend in 51 territories, fending off a spirited challenge from Warner’s “The Last Samurai,” which wrapped up $32.3 million in 13 markets.

The perf by the finale of Peter Jackson’s “Rings” trilogy during the fourth frame represented a 39% decline from the previous weekend — an impressive figure given the end of the holiday season in most territories. Cume for “Return of the King” after 26 days has hit $455 million, 29% higher than the “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” at the same point of its run last year.

The weekend’s outcome had been in doubt until Monday, due to New Line’s surprising decision to forgo issuing Sunday estimates. That prompted rivals to suggest “Samurai” had topped “King,” based on solid openings in Europe for the Tom Cruise starrer; also, the sequel took weekend-to-weekend hits of 50%-plus in some major markets after dominating overseas for its first three weeks.

But “King” held up nicely in key territories and now has taken in 78% of the $581 million final foreign cume for “Two Towers”; its combined worldwide gross has eclipsed $767 million, or 83% of the $923 million final worldwide cume for “Towers.” “King” has an excellent shot at passing the $1 billion mark, as it has not opened in Italy or Japan and is likely to receive a boost from Jan. 27’s announcement of Oscar nominations.

Major challenge

“Samurai” represented the first major challenge to that supremacy, but “King” prevailed in head-to-head competish in Blighty with $6.7 million at 1,299 playdates, compared with a $4.9 million opening at 430 sites for “Samurai.” “King’s” U.K. cume has hit $83.4 million, just $9 million short of the final total for “Two Towers” in that market.

In Germany, “King” generated $5.5 million at 1,337 engagements, besting the debut of “Samurai” with $4.87 million at 829 screens and lifting its Teuton total to $73.9 million. Fourth-frame French biz remained solid with $2.5 million at 955 sites, pushing the cume to $42.9 million; “Samurai” opens Wednesday in France.

But “Samurai” easily won in Spain with $5.3 million at 425 playdates. Spanish takings for “King” amounted to $2.1 million, lifting the latter’s cume to $33.8 million in that market.

The top perf for “Samurai” came in Italy, with $6.4 million at 600 sites; “King” won’t there open until Jan. 23.

In Japan, “Samurai” ended the five-weekend winning streak for BVI’s “Finding Nemo” with $5.4 million at 453 screens, pushing the former’s territorial cume to $73.3 million. “Nemo” was a close second, with $4.9 million pushing its territorial total to $82 million.

“Nemo” now has cumed $481.6 million offshore, including $60 million in France and $51 million in Germany.

‘Bear’ market

BVI’s “Brother Bear” beat “Return of the King” in Mexico for the second weekend in a row with $900,000, lifting its cume in that market to $10.4 million. “Bear” has cumed $32.4 million offshore.

Warner also reported a solid opening for “Something’s Gotta Give” in Oz and New Zealand with $1.95 million at 235 sites, 34% ahead of the recent debut of “Cold Mountain” and 25% above “As Good As It Gets.” Distrib also opened “Mystic River” in Japan with a respectable $1.28 million at 250 playdates.

In Blighty, Miramax’s “Cold Mountain” took in $1.33 million at 281 sites for a $5.5 million cume after three weeks. The distrib’s “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over” generated $1.64 million at 283 screens in its second weekend in Oz for a cume of $5.56 million in that market, pushing its worldwide total to $51.4 million.

‘Lost’ looks strong

UIP’s “Lost in Translation” continued to benefit from awards season buzz, grossing $206,000 at 34 playdates in Oz, off 24% from the previous weekend for a 17-day cume of $1.4 million, matching the final gross of “Adaptation.”

The distrib’s “Love Actually” generated another respectable weekend overseas with $4.6 million at 1,800 dates in 21 countries, which raises the UPI cume to $140 million and the worldwide take to $206 million. It will launch in Japan on Feb. 7.

UIP reported “Peter Pan” generated $2.4 million at 760 engagements in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the U.K. for an international cume of $17.5 million. Sony’s nine territories, led by Brazil, chipped in with $815,000 for “Pan.”

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