‘Panther’ claws its way to top o’seas

Remaining Oscar pics in play continued to cash in

While comic remake “The Pink Panther” was, in its second frame, tops once again at the foreign wickets, the real story may have been that the high-flying “V for Vendetta” wasn’t able to fend off the bumbling Inspector Clouseau.

Steve Martin starrer “Panther” handily made a kitten of “V,” which grossed less than $8.5 million with more than 2,000 prints in play.

“Panther” purred in Blighty, France and Latin America, taking its cume past $46.7 million.

Meantime, the remaining Oscar pics in play continued to cash in, including “Brokeback Mountain,” which topped the charts in Germany, and “Crash,” which has expanded its run in Japan and produced a very healthy streak in the Spanish top five after 10 weeks in release.

Following “Brokeback,” German auds preferred UIP’s “Failure to Launch” and Fox’s “Panther” over “V.”

But German B.O. fell by 17% as new entries “Failure” and “V” opened behind Tobis’ indie “Brokeback,” which went into wider release in its second week, with a total 243 copies.

“‘Brokeback’ has become a cultural phenomena,” notes one Teutonic exhib. “It obviously appeals to gay audiences, but it’s also attracting a wide range of viewers, young viewers as well as adults. Everyone is curious about this film, and the Oscar wins certainly didn’t hurt.”

Exhib added that much of the intended audience for “Launch” was watching “Brokeback” over the weekend.

Last month’s Berlinale screening failed to boost “V for Vendetta.” While pic got mixed reviews, one exhib says its subject matter just didn’t appeal to local auds. “Comic adaptations have always struggled here, and a film about a masked avenger fighting a fascist government is seen as a bit silly here.”

In Blighty, biz was up 4% from the previous frame, tanks to “Panther,” but off 21% from the same weekend last year.

Biz in the U.K. has been flat so far over the past month, and doesn’t look to pick up until “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown” previews and opens in Scotland on March 31. U.K.’s February admissions were down 13% from the same month a year ago. Exhibs are not unduly concerned by the lull, although some feel they could have made more off the immediate post-Oscars period.

“Pink Panther” stalked the top spot in the U.K. for the frame, and posted the best per-screen average of any pic in the top 15. Bookers report the opening was “bang on expectations” and credit Fox with a good campaign, especially the pic’s trailer.

Meantime, Warner Bros.’ futuristic actioner “V for Vendetta” finished a long way behind “Panther.” Exhibs have had to largely downsize estimations for “V” as negative buzz on the pic grew. Reviews were brutal, and bookers question whether the cartoon the pic is based on is well known enough to attract auds. Warners did its best to stress the London setting of the pic in a bid to pump interest.

Pulling up third, Fox’s horror effort “The Hills Have Eyes” slipped 37% in its soph frame, which was in line with expectations.

As Oscar pics continue to play, foreign-lingo winner “Tsotsi,” from Momentum, took the 10th spot in the U.K. from just 86 engagements.

Blighty bookers continue to lament the lack of quality multiplex product in release.

Although the majority of reviews are not out yet, buzz is very good on Spike Lee’s heist pic “Inside Man,” and bookers are hoping for a £1.5 million-plus opening. The feeling is that “Man” reps Lee’s most commercial pic in some time.

Tradesters hope the strong cast (Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster) will lure auds.

A bright spot at the o’seas wickets was France, where Gallic B.O. saw a 16% rise in receipts compared with the prior week. That bump was due mainly to the national exhib org’s annual spring promotion when ticket prices are just 3.50 euros ($4.23). If some of the pics playing in France weren’t so hot, the promotion was, getting its best turnout since 2000.

But the pics playing in France are mostly smaller, local fare: Six of the top-10 films were indigenous. The only Hollywood pics to click in France were Fox’s “Panther,” and the hip monster pic “Underworld: Evolution,” that’s being rolled out by SND.

Though notices for “Panther” were not good, Gauls were still charmed by this update of Inspector Clouseau.

Buena Vista Intl.’s “Derailed” got a big boost from the promotional event in France, seeing a 15% rise in ticket sales in its soph sesh, and earning the pic a place in the top 10.

Italo B.O. sunk 13% from the previous frame, mostly dominated by local fare, with no real blockbusters or Oscar pics in the mix.

“Vendetta” arrived in Italy in third, showing a dismal E875,000 ($1.1 million) from 295 screens. Outlook for the pic there is now looking grim.

“Unfortunately it won’t have a great future,” predicts one Italo exhib. “It’s science fiction, and may be difficult for our public, which doesn’t react to this type of film. It’s not well adapted to the mass market and it doesn’t appeal to young audiences either.”

Other U.S. pics to bow without much fanfare were “Find Me Guilty” and “The Producers.”

One high point in Italy has been “Brokeback,” which followed a bang-up run in Venice.

In Spain, B.O. was buoyed by the release of hometown hero Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver,” as well as Oscar winner “Crash,” which impressively careened into the No. 4 spot after 10 weeks in release.

“Volver” was a major hit, taking in $2.2 million from 228 copies. Exhibs are predicting the pic will rake in about $12 million in Spain.

Ranking No. 2 in Spain, Fox’s “Date Movie” made out to $1.5 million from 273 copies. “Panther” has cumed $7.8 million in 4 weekends in Spain.

“Crash” also made hay in Asian play. Distrib Movie Eye doubled the number of screens for “Crash” from 50 screens to about 100, and the unit says it’s shooting for $4.3 million in B.O.

Though the “Matrix” pics were big hits in Japan for the Wachowskis, “Vendetta” is not expected to make much of a splash.

(Mark Schilling in Japan, Ed Meza in Germany, Archie Thomas in the U.K., Sheri Jennings in Italy, Esther de Prado in Spain and Liza Klaussmann in France contributed to this report.)