The Christmas break proved it’s tough to conquer the world.

“The Incredibles” and “Ocean’s Twelve” stayed relatively solid offshore, but their returns paled in comparison with the dominance of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in the previous yuletide season. And while “Alexander” remained respectable in midsized markets, Oliver Stone’s epic didn’t exactly overwhelm Germany, its first venture into a key Euro territory.

Overall biz was off in Spain and Germany, where biz took a 25% hit due to Christmas falling on a Saturday. The softness of the Teuton market was reflected in a 53% decline for the second weekend of “Ocean’s Twelve,” which still led with $2.6 million at 827 playdates while “Alexander” took in nearly $2 million at 499 sites in the Thursday-Sunday period.

By contrast, the soph sesh of “The Return of the King” grossed $12.5 million in Germany during the same weekend of 2003, lifting its 12-day cume to $45 million.

Popular on Variety

German bookers noted that the length of “Alexander” limited the number of showings, but Teuton exhibs were nonetheless hoping for more. “Alexander” had generated great interest in the German press and enjoyed mostly positive reviews, but early Stateside word of mouth had a negative impact.

“Word travels fast, and from the outset, word about the film has not been good,” one German exhibitor said. “While $2 million on the opening weekend certainly is not bad, a movie of this scope definitely promised more.”

Still, “Alexander” looks to perform far better offshore than in the United States, where it generated miniscule coin in its fifth weekend with $41,148at 232 engagements for a cume of $33.9 million as of Dec. 26. By contrast, foreign cume for “Alexander” hit $32.7 million in 25 territories with openings still coming in France (Jan. 5), the U.K. and Spain (Jan. 7), Italy (Jan. 14) and Japan (early February).

“Alexander,” which has opened in first in most territories, debuted in third in Austria with $311,582 at 76 screens. Five-week cumes include Denmark with $1.47 million, Sweden with $1.38 million and Croatia with $350,000; four-week totals include Greece with $2.28 million, Portugal with $1.12 million and Israel with $541,000.

Besides leading in Germany, “Ocean’s Twelve” also topped markets in France, Holland and Spain with $22.6 million for the Christmas frame. Offshore cume hit $67.8 million Dec. 26 after two weeks, compared with $86.8 million Stateside in three weeks; still, the sequel’s unlikely to approach the “Ocean’s Eleven” final foreign total of $262.8 million.

Despite being well into its second month in most markets, “The Incredibles” remained a powerful player with second-place finish in France and third-place finishes in Germany and Japan. As of Dec. 28, the toon’s foreign cume was $237.9 million from 49 markets.

Italian box office registered an increase over the previous frame but fell 20% from the same weekend last year, partly due to Christmas being on a Saturday. One booker faulted distribs for not providing more variety in the marketplace, noting the top three films — “Christmas in Love,” “Shrek 2” and “Tu la conosci Claudia?” — are comedies.

Another Italo exhib expressed disappointment over the mid-December arrival of “Shrek 2,” which has cumed over $450 million in offshore grosses. ” ‘Shrek 2’ should have been released here when it was released in the rest of the world,” he added.

Most major Asian markets appeared unaffected by Dec. 26’s undersea earthquake in Sumatra and resulting devastation. The opening of Stephen Chow’s Chinese-language action-comedy “Kung Fu Hustle” kicked up boffo results with $15 million at 790 engagements in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

“Kung Fu Hustle” opens during the Jan 7-9 frame in Indonesia and Philippines, Jan. 14 in Korea and Feb. 10 in Thailand; it will debut in Europe in June.

Long-running Japanese animated hit “Howl’s Moving Castle” crossed the $100 million mark in Japan.

“The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” made its first offshore foray in Germany in fourth place with a moderate $1.47 million from 404 German screens. “Word of mouth on this film has been good, and it hasn’t just been children going to see it,” one booker noted. “It has a strong following among young adults as well as kids, so the film may hold well.”

Spanish biz brought little Christmas cheer to exhibitors, who have only seen one recent clear-cut hit with “The Incredibles” cuming $20 million in four weeks. “This has been the worst December in Spain in years,” one opined.

The gloom was underlined by the downbeat fourth-place opening for “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” with $976,836 at 247 sites. One blamed the lack of popularity of Jim Carrey and the Snicket books plus the title, a literal translation from the English title.

“Having a film with a very long title never helps, and it’s even worse if the title means nothing to the audiences, as Spaniards have no clue what Lemony Snicket is,” he added. “We had a similar problem with ‘Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow’ — another long, meaningless title in Spanish.”

The booker noted that the opening of “Taxi” easily outperformed “Snicket” with $1.55 million at 301 playdates. ” ‘Taxi’ has a simple title, and one can see how that’s helped a film that’s otherwise not so attractive,” he added.

(Ed Meza in Berlin, Sheri Jennings in Rome and Norma Nebot in Madrid contributed to this report.)