Euros buy ‘Samurai’ but ‘King’ won’t talk

Rivals hold back new pix

Tom Cruise has ended the domination of Frodo & Co. in foreign markets, as “The Last Samurai” may have dethroned “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” with an estimated $30.6 million over the weekend.

Rivals estimated the fourth weekend of “King” had grosses in the $25 million-$28 million range overseas, representing a decline of 52% to 58% while lifting cume for the “Lord of the Rings” finale to around $435 million.

But the picture was far from conclusive as New Line took an abnormally wary tack Sunday by refusing to issue any weekend figures. New Line Intl. prexy Camela Galano admitted the decision to hold off until Monday was due partly to significant declines at the end of the holiday season.

In the three previous weekends, “King” had overwhelmed the competish as rivals held back new pix and opted to stick with holdovers in most markets.

But the arrival of a Tom Cruise starrer appeared particularly timely during the frame as Warner’s “Samurai” battled its way to $23.7 million from openings in nine European markets. It also took $4.85 million from its sixth weekend in Japan, where it has cumed an impressive $73.4 million, and $2.1 million from Korea, India and Indonesia.

In head-to-head competition with “King,” “Samurai” finished a close second in the U.K., with $4.9 million at 430 playdates, and in Germany with $4.7 million at 829 engagements, both on par with openings for “Saving Private Ryan.” One distrib estimated “King” had grossed $6.4 million in Blighty, a 41% decline.

“Samurai” scored its biggest take in Italy, where “King” won’t open until Jan. 23, taking $5.7 million at 600 sites to lead that market. The figure repped the fourth largest Italian opening for a Warner pic after “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

“Samurai” easily won in Spain over “King” with $5.2 million at 425 playdates, including previews, marking Warner’s fifth biggest debut in that territory with results 14% higher than “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” “Samurai” also was No. 1 in Austria, German-speaking Switzerland, Israel and Portugal.

In an illustration of the variance in offshore estimates, Warner said “Samurai” was contending for first in Japan with $4.85 million, while BVI reported the sixth frame of “Finding Nemo” had won the territory with $7 million in its sixth weekend for a cume of $77.4 million. “Return of the King” won’t open in Japan until mid-February.

“Nemo” took in $16 million for the frame to lift its offshore total past $480 million with execs expecting the Disney/Pixar blockbuster to eclipse $500 million by the end of the coming weekend.

BVI reported solid legs for “Freaky Friday” with $3 million to push foreign cume to $42.3 million. The teen comedy’s best perf came in the U.K., with $950,000 in its fourth frame for a $9.5 million total.

BVI’s “Brother Bear” also remained respectable with $2.7 million, lifting its overseas total to $32 million without having opened yet in Europe or Japan. The animated laffer led in Mexico with $900,000 to bring its four-week cume to $10.4 million in that territory.

Sony’s “Gothika,” which has cumed $58 million domestically, debuted decently in France with $2.5 million at 412 engagements in its first foreign run, with the distrib parlaying local recognition of French helmer Mathieu Kassovitz. The French opening was on par with “Panic Room,” “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Blade II.”

Fox generated a respectable opening in Oz for “Cheaper By the Dozen” with $1.93 million at 177 engagements. The Steve Martin laffer finished second in Mexico with $802,000 at 350 sites and has cumed $2.9 million in two weeks in that market.

Fox also reported “Stuck on You” declined only 25% in the U.K. with $1.4 million at 299 playdates for a two-week total of $4.2 million. Distrib also was enthused over “Stuck” opening with $450,000 at 243 French sites.

BVI’s “Calendar Girls” grabbed another $2 million to push foreign takings to $51.3 million. The Brit laffer opened strongly in Spain with $580,000 at 93 playdates to give it the highest per-screen figure in that territory.

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