‘King Kong’ is medium-sized gorilla o’seas

Jackson's latest isn't a monster hit at the foreign box office

UIP’s King Kong,” the final entry in the major studios’ holiday onslaught of seasonal blockbusters, wasn’t quite as much of a monster as Universal might have hoped internationally. But Peter Jackson’s first pic since his smash “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy wasn’t exactly monkeying around, either.

U’s widest foreign rollout ever managed to stomp $83.6 million in its 55-market day-and-date bow, and was picking up steam as it headed into its second frame. Its tally was the ninth biggest bow overseas ever.

Three-hour running time may have taken some of the pic’s initial B.O. power away. But with little new competish, “Kong” has room to grow as the holidays roll on.

Takes in the U.K., France and Korea were higher on Monday after the pic’s first frame than on “Kong’s” opening day in those territories, showing promising growth.

When the final numbers were totaled Monday, top perfs for “Kong” came from the U.K., with $12.1 million; France, with $7.6 million; and Germany, with $6.2 million.

U decided to go day-and-date with the pic to capitalize on global buzz for Jackson’s latest, which was generally well-reviewed.

After a bow at No. 1, hot on “Kong’s” tail in Blighty was Buena Vista’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which has taken in $30.2 million to date there, and Warner Bros.’ latest installment in the Harry Potter franchise, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” which has conjured up $74.5 million so far.

Fox’s “The Family Stone” and Entertainment’s “Lassie” were two new entries in the U.K. that failed to show much power against U’s great ape.

Thanks to “Kong,” Gallic box office rose 27% compared with the week before. Good holds for “Harry Potter,” “Chicken Little” and local entry “Kirikou et Les Betes Sauvages” also helped.

“Kong” landed at No. 1 in France as well, taking home $9.1 million in its first week.

Pic had a slow start as a Wednesday opener, but it saw a strong weekend in Gaul, which exhibs chalked up to good word of mouth. Pic’s debut, while nowhere close to “Goblet of Fire’s” $19.7 million haul two weeks ago, is still a major driver in the B.O. scene in France.

Still, Gallic exhibs were hoping for more; now they’re just hoping word of mouth will help “Kong” continue to gain momentum.

Despite strong reviews in Gaul, auds seemed somewhat skeptical. But in a down year in France, any pic that passes $3 million in its first week is a boon.

“Kong” also climbed into the No. 1 spot in Germany, but has not managed to meet expectations of exhibs.

“It could have been stronger, but it balances well with ‘Narnia’ and ‘Harry Potter,'” one Teutonic booker said. He added, however, that the colossal chimp will not see a major drop over the next two weeks, with the holidays helping to keep sales on the present level.

Another booker argued that “Kong” is “very much meant for a male audience, which has been fed sufficiently with action fare so far” as a possible reason for the down returns.

At the end of a weak year for German B.O., “Kong” had a lot riding on his shoulders. Country’s top three, “Kong,” “Narnia” and “Goblet of Fire,” are the titans of an industry hoping to add some significant B.O. bucks at year’s end.

“Family Stone” came in fourth in Germany. “For a Christmas pic the entry was not that strong, but then ‘Kong’ just dominated the media,” said one German booker of “Stone’s” sinking.

Asia proved fertile turf for “Kong” — particularly Korea, Japan and Hong Kong — and booming Russia was a breakout with an impressive $4.8 million in “Kong’s” debut frame there.

However, Spain and Italy were among the soft spots that disappointed.

Italo exhibs were disillusioned by “Kong’s” dismal third-place bow behind two local comedies.

Mighty “Kong” is only expected to earn about as much in Italy as those laffers, “Natale a Miami,” which came in handily at No. 1 with $3,640,456, and No. 2 finisher “Ti amo in tutte le lingue del mondo.”

“This is the last weekend before Christmas, and people feel like seeing comedies,” explained one Italo booker. “Older people have shopping to do and younger auds just want to see something fun.”

“We thought there would be more interest in this film from the director of ‘The Lord of the Rings,'” groused another.

Exhibs were further surprised when auds chose “Natale in Miami” as first place hit over local rival “Ti amo in tutte le lingue del mondo.”

“Miami” is the yearly lowbrow box office hit produced by Aurelio De Laurentiis and starring Massimo Boldi and Christian De Sica. It is the 15th edition of the franchise, and reportedly the last for the local thesps.

“Narnia” has yet to hit screens in Italy.

“Kong” also was disappointing in Spain, where B.O. actually fell 9% from the previous frame. It was the third drop in a row in Spain, and one that came as a surprise. Bookers were high on “Kong” to goose B.O. there.

Total weekend came in at $11.3 million, and one Spanish booker said, “‘King Kong’ didn’t perform as well as we thought, and there were no outstanding bows apart from it.”

“The weekend before Christmas is not usually very good for biz as people are packing the shops, not the theaters,” added another, hopeful that “Kong” might gain some biz as the holidays march on.

In Spain, “Kong” earned about $4.8 million from a four-day opening, and $3.9 million from Friday to Sunday. That was the 10th biggest bow of 2005 there.

” ‘King Kong’ had a good promotion, it is directed by a well-known director and it had positive reviews,” said another Spanish booker. “It just had it all, but it didn’t make it.” He estimated “Kong” will reach no more than $14 million in the territory.

Christian Koehl in Germany, Esther de Prado in Spain, Sheri Jennings in Italy and Liza Klaussmann in France contributed to this report.