After a soft start, “The Nativity Story” is showing respectable legs at the domestic box office in the days leading up to Christmas, but it’s been shunned by moviegoers outside the States.

The $35 million New Line pic opened the weekend of Dec. 1 to an unimpressive $7.8 million at 3,083 playdates, finishing a distant fourth to the third frames of “Happy Feet” and “Casino Royale” and the soph sesh of “Deja Vu.”

The debut number was viewed as something of a disappointment, given the blockbuster perf by Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004 and New Line’s marketing of “Nativity” to church groups.

Since then, however, “Nativity” has salvaged its performance with decent holdover numbers. The second frame saw a decline of 27% to $5.7 million, followed by a drop of only 19% to $4.7 million in its third, even though the film’s screen count dropped by more than 500. In both cases, the hold was the best for a pic in the top 10.

And weekday biz has surged this week with $2.5 million in three days via gains of 36%, 41% and 52%, lifting the domestic cume to $25.6 million as of Wednesday. With Christmas on Monday, this weekend’s likely to see enough of an upward bump to propel “The Nativity Story” to about $40 million by the end of its Stateside run, particularly with viewers from group sales still waiting to see the pic.

Oversees, it’s been a different story, with foreign grosses totaling a meager $5.7 million as of Wednesday. As is typical of its financing strategy, New Line sold off the foreign territories to an array of distribs — none of whom are seeing anything but dreary results, even from heavily Catholic markets.

The top foreign “Nativity” performance has come in Italy, with $1.85 million. Even with the first-ever world premiere at the Vatican, pic finished in fourth on its opening weekend, and the numbers have been so drab that distrib Eagle Pictures has slashed the number of playdates from 505 to 91.

Spain’s the second-largest territory, with $869,706 in three weeks after a 13th place opening, followed by the U.K. with $467,228 in two weeks, Australia with $337,119 in three weeks, Argentina with $195,900, France with $182,910, Germany with $159,281 and Mexico with $154,157.

The film’s laggardly foreign perf took rival distribs by surprise even though none had been expecting numbers on par with those of “Passion,” which grossed $240 million overseas. Italy was by far the biggest foreign market two years ago for “Passion” with $24 million, followed by the U.K. with $20.4 million, Mexico with $18.9 million, Brazil with $15.4 million and Spain with $13.7 million.

“My guess is that ‘Nativity’ may have felt too familiar, kind of like a movie of the week,” one distrib noted.