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‘Narnia’ nipping at ‘King’s’ heels o’seas

Int'l tally for 'Chronicles' over New Year's is $53.5 mil

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and its talking lion roared into 2006 with significantly more traction among international audiences than “King Kong, pulling down an impressive $53.5 million at 6,584 playdates in 31 markets over New Year’s four-day weekend.

Despite starting later than the big gorilla in most territories, “Narnia” had nearly caught “Kong” as of Jan. 2 with $225.5 million international total, led by a $57.7 million cume in the U.K.

“Kong” hardly has been a chump overseas with foreign grosses hitting $238 million on Jan. 3, the end of its third week. And the year’s biggest film, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, continued to mint money over the New Year’s frame, conjuring $17 million after nearly two months in most markets.

In a downbeat year, “Narnia,” “Kong” and “Goblet” turned in a more than respectable performance, generating $933 million as 2005 came to a close. “Goblet” saw its international gross hit $545.7 million on Jan. 3 to pass “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” in offshore coin.

“Narnia” hit the new year as BVI’s fifth-best live-action foreign performer. BVI execs see “Narnia” as a dominant player for several more weeks, forecasting that it can beat “Armageddon” at $355 million at the top of that list.

“Narnia” has managed to show traction in a wide variety of non-English markets such as Germany, where the fantasy’s fourth frame edged the third weekend of “Kong” as it neared $20 million territorial cume.

Teuton theater managers point out that “Narnia” was less affected by New Year’s Eve than “King Kong,” since it’s able to attract audience for afternoon sessions. They note that with the year-end holidays focused on families, “Narnia” became an ideal choice.

Situation was similar in Spain, where the fourth weekend of “Narnia” beat the third weekend of “Kong” with cume heading towards $17 million. “There’s no doubt ‘Narnia’ has been the star of Christmas holidays and families’ best choice for weekdays,” one booker says.

BVI decided to position “Narnia” in Spain as an adventure pic without forefronting its religious themes. “The wintry background may have helped the film, but it’s really the adventure side that has drawn audiences,” another booker notes.

“Narnia” also distinguished itself in Australia, where temps were sizzling and audiences sought relief at air-conditioned multiplexes, with a socko $12.55 million in its first eight days following a Boxing Day launch. In Italy, despite opening a week later, “Narnia” had flown past “Kong” as of New Year’s Day by more than $3 million.

” ‘Narnia’ is full of good sentiments and kids can go to it without getting scared,” one Roman booker notes.

And in one of its few openings, “Narnia” turned in a record South Korean opening for BVI with a $6.1 million four-day cume to top “Kong,” which has been sturdy in the market.

Although ranking first in Seoul, “Narnia” had to settle for No. 2 for South Korea as upstart Korean period drama “King and the Clown” surprised observers with a $7.3 million four-day total on 250 screens. “Clown,” repped internationally by CJ Entertainment, tells the story of a mad king who develops a fascination for an androgynous-looking male jester.

Heading into 2006, “Kong” hadn’t exactly been generating chump change for UIP on the foreign front, crossing $237 million in offshore cume on Jan. 3. Peter Jackson’s effects-laden remake has simply not performed at the stratospheric levels that were initially forecast as part of an upbeat conclusion to what’s been a downbeat year.

Top “Kong” perfs have come in the U.K. with $39.9 million and France with $20.8 million, followed by South Korea with $17.8 million, Germany with $16.4 million, Mexico with $13.1 million and Japan with $12.2 million.

But many exhibitors were expecting far more from “Kong,” particularly in the post-Christmas sessions. In Spain, where the three-week cume hit $11.7 million, bookers assert that love for the gorilla is fading fast at the box office, particularly among time-conscious teens.

“Some people who see the movie say they like it but children aren’t brought to see it,” one Spanish booker opines. “And the 15-18’s can’t take the three hours.”

With the big three tentpoles taking the lion’s share of foreign coin, distribs played it cautiously with a few limited counterprogramming releases. Sony saw significant traction in Australia with “Fun With Dick and Jane,” which cumed nearly $4 million in its first week.

The Aussie market saw New Year’s Day sellouts in Victoria and New South Wales when temps in Sydney topped a whopping 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). Shopping malls were closed for the holiday leaving cinemas as the only, air-conditioned entertainment activity available.

By 4 p.m. at Greater Union Bondi Junction, every single seat in the 11 cinemas had sold out for the rest of the day, forcing the site manager to turn away a queue of customers that stretched across three levels of the complex.

In Italy, “Narnia” and “Kong” continued to be significantly outplayed by Christmas hit comedy, “Natale a Miami,” which stars Christian De Sica and Massimo Boldi — a duo famous for their pranks and yearly lowbrow comedy via the “Christmas in” series produced by Aurelio de Laurentiis. As a result, counterprogamming forays by “Rumor Has It” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” have gained only minor traction so far in Italy.

In Germany, “Rumor Has It” has generated moderate support and remained in the fourth spot for two weekends. More impressively, Woody Allen’s “Match Point” started strongly in the No. 5 slot in Germany with by far the best per-screen average for its modest 130 copies.

“We couldn’t even run it at all our houses, and where it did, it did great,” one chain rep notes.

Christian Koehl in Germany, Michaela Boland in Australia, John Hopewell in Spain, Sheri Jennings in Italy and Darcy Paquet in South Korea contributed to this report.

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