World auds seduced by ‘Bridget Jones’

'Incredibles' breaking B.O. records in Asia

Biz slumped in the U.K., France, Germany and Italy last week, but it was destined to be a temporary lull as “The Incredibles” invaded Italy and Spain and rolled out nationwide in Blighty and France over the weekend, and “National Treasure” looked for gold in Germany.

Exhibs in France and the U.K. were super bullish after the toon’s two week platform at the 2,000-seat Grand Rex theater in Paris (highlighted by 14,2000 admissions on Nov. 21, a single-day theater record in the market), and its one-week showcase at two London venues.

One U.K. booker described the toon’s figures as “not quite incredible, but certainly fantastic” and he predicted a weekend haul of roughly $13 million. The superhero saga smashed animation opening records in Singapore (36% ahead of “Finding Nemo”) and Malaysia (50% bigger than “Dinosaur”) and while it bowed better than “Nemo” in Poland, it was below “Shrek 2.”

The Pixar pic showed great playability in its soph sessions in Scandinavia and Taiwan.

The weekend’s champ overseas, “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” wooed $20.7 million from 1,854 playdates in 18 territories, raising its cume to $59 million. The Renee Zellweger-Colin Firth headliner notched record debuts for Universal in Norway and New Zealand, the studio’s second biggest in Portugal, third highest in Denmark, fourth in Sweden and eighth best in Spain.

All were significantly bigger than the entries of “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and sequel was No. 1 in each market except Sweden, where it was shaded by “The Incredibles.'” Singleton saga held stoutly in its second outings in the U.K. and Australia, tracking ahead of “Diary” by 41% and 52%, respectively.

Japan was jumping, as animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki’s “Howl’s Moving Castle” registered the industry’s third-biggest preem of all time, sans sneaks, behind the second and first editions of “Harry Potter.” Fantasy about a magician and an 18-year-old girl trapped in an old woman’s body will be released by Disney domestically and in France and Southeast Asia.

Beginning its offshore journey in Oz, “The Polar Express” attracted a reasonable number of kids over the weekend but was sparsely attended on weekdays, playing like a typical holiday movie. Warner/Roadshow is hoping for a leggy run, with no competition in the family film category until “Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events” arrives Dec. 16; the only question is whether the Tom Hanks-starrer can trade strongly enough to hold onto its screens.

U.K. receipts plunged by 41% despite respectable entries by “After the Sunset” (aided by Pierce Brosnan’s local following), “The Manchurian Candidate” (which resonated with upscale auds) and teen-skewing “Taxi.” “Candidate” held well in Italy but is fading fast in Spain and Germany; it’s earned a modest $18.6 million in 26 markets and has no hope of reaching domestic’s $66 million. France was off by 23% as Warners wartime romance “A Very Long Engagement” lost altitude in its fourth frame, although “House of Flying Daggers” muscled in, boosted by critical raves such as one who likened helmer Zhang Yimou to the “Peckinpah of martial arts films; he magnifies the unbridled violence with a poetry and rhythm that gives the film the dimension of a medieval dance.”

“The Bridesmaid,” a thriller-love story directed and written by Claude Chabrol, based on the Ruth Rendell novel, drew plenty of Chabrol devotees. Takings in Spain rose by 23%, sparked by “Bridget Jones,” “Alien vs. Predator” and two local holdovers: Basque terrorist tale “El Lobo” and “Say I Do,” the latter benefiting from topliner Paz Vega, who is generating buzz for her upcoming pic “Spanglish.”

Fox’s creature feature seized top spot in Italy, although disappointing some exhibs who were hoping for more, given the presence of Italo fave Raoul Bova and hefty TV publicity. With roughly $68 million in the till, the horror pic could edge past domestic’s $78.9 million, depending on how it fares next month in Japan, its last major market.

The monsters mashed “Exorcist: The Beginning” in its second sojourn in Italy, while the prequel showed some spunk in France but was buried on 82 prints in Germany. Renny Harlin-helmed demon saga has minted an estimated $30 million.

“Shall We Dance” advanced to around $43 million in just 17 territories, boosted by its buoyant bow in Greece, its second turn in Mexico and fourth in Italy. However the Richard Gere-Jennifer Lopez starrer plunged in its third stanza in Spain as femmes embraced “Bridget Jones.”

“Bad Santa” wasn’t bad in Italy but lousy in Germany, France and Mexico.

(Sheri Jennings in Rome, Archie Thomas in London, John Hopewell in Madrid, Liza Klaussmann in Paris and Christian Koehl in Cologne contributed to this report.)

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