‘Rings’ jousts with ‘Samurai’ to rule B.O.

Cruise puts up a good fight, but 'King' still rules

Frodo and friends fended off Tom Cruise, with “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” narrowly retaining the international box office crown last weekend over “The Last Samurai.”

The fourth frame for the “Rings” finale took in $35.3 million in 48 territories, while Warner’s “Samurai” grossed $32.3 million in 13 markets as the distrib expanded the Cruise starrer from Japan to a dozen new territories.

Foreign cume for “Return of the King” hit $462.8 million as of Jan. 13, while “Samurai” eclipsed the $109 million overseas mark, thanks largely to an impressive $77 million take in Japan. In head-to-head battles, “Rings” won in the U.K. and Germany and “Samurai” took the gold in Spain.

The closest clash between the titans came in Germany, where “King” grossed $5.5 million at 1,337 playdates and “Samurai” took in $4.87 million at 829 engagements. But the rest of the market was lackluster, falling 15% from the previous week with Teuton exhibs citing a lack of other new major product.

“Ticket sales for ‘Lord of the Rings’ dropped 50%, but it’s still going strong,” commented one exhib. “We expected ‘The Last Samurai’ would pose a strong challenge, and it was a close fight, but ‘Lord of the Rings’ still has the advantage that it’s more family-friendly.”

In Blighty, “Return of the King” took in $6.7 million at 1,299 playdates, compared with $5 million at 430 sites for “Samurai” for a stout $11,652 average. Exhibs were enthused about both pics, noting “King” had cumed $88.5 million as of Jan. 13 and praising Cruise’s two-hour autograph-signing marathon at the West End premiere.

“It’s not often a London premiere makes the pages of the Guardian,” one exhib said.

Overall U.K. biz was down 16% from the previous weekend, but up 10% from same frame last year, as exhibs asserted satisfaction with the performance. “The numbers are good enough considering we were coming out of a holiday period,” one noted.

In Spain, “Samurai” won easily with $5.4 million at 425 playdates, compared with $2.1 million at 512 engagements for “King,” which has cumed $35.5 million as of Jan. 13. Although Spanish biz edged down 9% from the previous weekend, the perf by “Samurai” maintained B.O. at healthy overall levels for January, which normally sees plunging revenues.

“This year couldn’t have begun better,” one booker said. Exhibs noted Cruise came to tubthump the pic in Madrid and spent an hour and a half on a cold January night signing autographs on Madrid’s Gran Via where the film opened, an act of physical endurance that won him wide praise and press coverage in the Spanish press the next day.

One booker predicted “Samurai” will have solid legs in Spain despite being a male-oriented pic. “It plays to a wide audience including an adult demo,” he said. “Tom Cruise gets a lot of female spectators into the cinema, but they come out saying that (co-star) Ken Watanabe isn’t bad-looking, either.”

In Italy, “Samurai” opened with $6.4 million at 600 engagements and exhibs pronounced themselves generally pleased with bright prospects due to Cruise’s star appeal, even though “Return of the King” opens Jan. 23. “Sometimes these films proportionally do better in Italy then in the U.S. territory,” one booker said.

Still, “King” is expected to dominate in Italy, with those who have seen it already in agreement that the conclusion of the trilogy is the best so far. One Italo exhib pointed out that showings of “King” are already sold out where tickets are pre-sold.

Opening day of “The Last Samurai” on Jan. 14 in Paris was solid with a high estimate of $147,000 on 49 screens. But the Gallic box office fell 29% from the previous week, despite solid perfs for newcomers “Gothika” and “Lost in Translation.”

“Gothika” came in second to “King” in its debut weekend with $2.7 million at 412 engagements, clocking $6,628 per screen. Still, exhibs expressed doubt as to whether pic will continue to perform so strongly, attributing some of its success to curiosity about the French director, Mathieu Kassovitz, and to a lesser degree to Halle Berry’s draw.

UIP’s “Lost in Translation” looks like a keeper in France with $1.34 million at a very conservative 130 screens, far outstripping every other film on the top 10 in per-screen average with $10,314. Exhibs cited rave reviews from Gallic crix as well as a soft spot for helmer Sofia Coppola after the success of her debut pic, “The Virgin Suicides.”

“Lost” also grossed an impressive $206,000 at 34 Oz playdates.

BVI’s “Finding Nemo” saw its five-weekend streak of No. 1 finishes come to an end in Japan, where it trailed “Samurai” with $4.9 million. Japanese cume is $82 million and total offshore biz was $483.7 million as of Jan. 13.

BVI’s also generated impressive returns from “Brother Bear” in Mexico, where it topped “Return of the King” for the second weekend in a row and has cumed $10.4 million in that market. “Bear” has totaled $32.4 million offshore despite not yet opening in most major markets, signaling a strong possibility that its final foreign can top $100 million.

Warner reported solid openings for “Something’s Gotta Give” in Oz and New Zealand, with $2.45 million at 235 sites, and for “Mystic River” in Japan, with $2.1 million at 250 playdates. Latter’s offshore cume has hit $41.6 million.

Fox reported a solid $6.2 million initial foreign cume for Steve Martin laffer “Cheaper By the Dozen” in Oz, Mexico and a trio of Caribbean territories.

“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” had cumed $83 million, or just $1 million short of the domestic cume.

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

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