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H’wood slowdown gives big bump to locals

'Friends' rules France, 'Particles' heats up Germany

Amid a big-time B.O. slowdown overseas — thanks in part to the Winter Olympics in Italy pulling auds away from cinemas — Warner Bros.’ political pic “Syriana” managed to take the top spot among Hollywood fare at the international wickets.

But with little new imported competish, local pics ruled: Indigenous fare finished first in key markets including Germany, France and Italy.

Reflecting a soft Feb. 24-26 frame, no pic came close to breaking $10 million.

French sensation “Friends Forever” continued to make nice with Gallic auds, and the pic, from Warners France, raked in $8.1 million from 950 Gallic screens. That total made it No. 1 overall, beating out “Syriana’s” numbers.

“Friends” now has a tres magnifique cume of $67.3 million. Plus, the pic has legs to spare, having dropped a scant 22% in its latest frame.

Oil drama “Syriana” managed to hit paydirt in Gaul, Italy and Germany, with its top tally coming from France. Oddly, the pic’s $1.5 million French finish was only good enough for the No. 8 spot in a chart packed with local success stories, including “Friends,” “Orchestra Seats” and “L’Ivresse du Pouvoir,” the territory’s top three pics.

In Germany, “Syriana” opened in second. But with only 143,040 admissions, it was not exactly a major hit.

One Teutonic exhib said the film is doing well, in part, because “German audiences love and respect George Clooney.”

Overall, German B.O. dipped 17% from the previous frame. And “Syriana” could not beat out local entry “The Elementary Particles,” which was the talk of the recent Berlin fest.

“(‘Particles’) got plenty of press coverage during the festival, and its subject matter has intrigued people,” said one exhib. Pic explores the lives of two sexually dysfunctional brothers.

Italo B.O. skipped up about 2% over the last frame. But those results had exhibs there up in arms.

“We are living a black moment,” said one despondent Italian booker. “The weekend was 30% less than the same weekend last year. It is a really terrible moment for theatrical releases.”

Top film for two weeks in Italy has been “Night Before Exams” (Notte prima degli esami), a nostalgic comedy aimed at thirtysomethings. Pic, in its second frame, actually jumped 28% from the previous sesh.

As in France, Italo exhibs chalked “Syriana’s” appeal up to Clooney’s hold on fans. Pic played into the No. 2 spot.

With “Syriana” yet to bow in Spain, auds there opted for silly stuff, making “The Pink Panther” their No. 1 choice, followed by “Sky High.”

“The New World” ranked third, disappointing Spanish bookers as helmer Terrence Malick has a firm following there.

Shifting to English-speaking turf, biz in Blighty was down 15% from the previous frame, and bookers reported the market has been “inundated with upmarket, awards-season fare” that’s making their market “top-heavy with intelligent films and lacking popcorn movies.”

“Brokeback Mountain,” Walk the Line,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Capote” are all now in circulation in the U.K.’s top 10.

But despite the high-end fare available, it was Fox’s “Date Movie” that brushed off one- and two-star reviews to take the top B.O. spot.

U.K. bookers suggested that’s because the market is “gagging for mindless fun after weeks of cerebral releases.”

Also as a result, Buena Vista Intl.’s “Chicken Little” scratched its way to No. 2.

Entertainment’s new entry “Lucky Number Slevin,” meantime, took the third spot in its opening U.K. frame, which delighted exhibs, especially as the pic has not opened in the U.S. Bookers credited Entertainment’s “typically bullish” campaign.

“Walk the Line” is doing exceptionally well in Ireland, a territory where “the man in black” is still adored. A final U.K. cume of $14 million is predicted.

“Date Movie” also was a hit Down Under, finishing No.1, followed by “Walk the Line.”

In notable Asian action, Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” has struck a chord with Chinese auds; it became the latest foreign movie to breach China’s crucial 100 million yuan ($12.4 million) B.O. barrier as its total mainland take surpassed $12.5 million.

Pic’s distrib, Huaxi Film Distribution, said the monkey pic, which bowed Jan. 15, had become the biggest foreign pic of the past five years. It was given a big boost by its release in time for the Chinese New Year holiday, which began Jan. 28.

To date, four imported movies in China have joined the elite club of pics that have passed the 100-million-yuan threshold since the country began importing pics. (Others are “The Fugitive,” “True Lies,” “Titanic” and “Pearl Harbor.”)

Chinese quotas allow 20 foreign films to be shown each year.

(Sheri Jennings in Italy, Ed Meza in Germany, Esther de Prado in Spain, Liza Klaussmann in France, Michaela Boland in Australia, Archie Thomas in England and Clifford Coonan in China contributed to this report.)