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‘Narnia’ roars back to top of global B.O.

Frame marks BVI pic's sixth No. 1 weekend

Thanks to a boffo bow in Japan, Buena Vista Intl.’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” clawed its way back to the top of the overseas B.O. heap, taking in nearly $10 million and raising its cume to $389 million.

Frame marked the pic’s sixth No. 1 weekend.

Meantime, political drama “Syriana” continued to play well, staking out the frame’s second spot, followed by “Brokeback Mountain,” which got a nice bump from kudos season and a $16.7 million finish in the U.K.

Thanks to a big-time bow in Japan for “Narnia,” BVI is predicting a final cume there of $128 million.

That number would outpace such previous BVI hits in Japan as “Finding Nemo” ($94 million), making “Narnia” BVI’s top grossing pic in the territory.

Industry insiders say “Narnia’s” success in the Land of the Rising Sun was a bit of a shock: The series of kiddie books by C.S. Lewis, on which the film is based, are largely unknown. But BVI timed the pic’s release to a marketing push for the tomes, and the success in Japan of the “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings” franchises paved the way for fans of such similarly targeted fantasies.

In an otherwise tepid time of year for movies internationally, Japan has been proving a moviegoing hotbed. Local comedy “Suite Dreams” by Koki Mitani has crossed the $42 million mark, outgrossing any Japanese pic since the beginning of 2005.

Away from Asia, Hollywood fare largely sagged, with local pics gaining steam in France, Germany and Italy.

In the U.K. — where bookers characterized business as extremely flat — B.O. was down 11% from the previous frame.

Silly Fox satire “Date Movie” held the top spot again, dipping only 18% in its soph showing. “The hold is extremely impressive,” says a Blighty booker. “I expected a drop-off close to 40%.”

He attributed the strong hold to a good sustaining campaign from Fox, which included TV ads, and surprisingly positive word of mouth. The pic is also benefiting from a lack of true popcorn-film competish.

Feeding off Oscar buzz, “Syriana” took the second spot on the U.K. charts and posted the best per-screen average of any pic in the top 15. Star George Clooney is well-liked by U.K. auds, and his multiple awards noms and Oscar win built buzz for the politically charged examination of the oil trade.

Some U.K. exhibs were hoping for 10%-15% more from the bow, but openly concede “it is a tough sell and not a commercial movie.” Reviews were positive.

Meantime, Nicolas Cage vehicle “The Weather Man” made little impact on the U.K. charts, managing only eighth spot from 258 screens.

Oscar contenders in Blighty “Walk the Line” (down 23% in its fifth frame), “Good Night, and Good Luck” (down 35% in its third), “Brokeback Mountain” (down 20% in its ninth) and “Capote” (down 15% in its second) continue to perform well, thanks to some post-awards resilience.

Pathe has had a flurry of bookings for best pic “Crash,” which will go out again on 55 screens March 10 in the U.K. Pic is already available on DVD.

Thanks to local kiddie comedy “Die wilden Kerle 3,” German B.O. was up an impressive 34% compared with the previous frame. Pic enjoyed the best bow of the year with nearly 640,000 admissions.

First two “Wilde Kerle” pics — about a motley crew of kids who form a neighborhood soccer team, a la “The Bad News Bears” — were also big hits in Germany.

“The ‘Wilden Kerle’ movies have become a strong franchise here and kids have grown up with them,” one exhib says. (“Die Wilden Kerle 2” became the second-biggest local moneymaker of 2005.)

Sony’s “Underworld: Evolution” followed at No. 2 for the week, with 232,000 admissions, surpassing the 170,000 tickets sold by the first installment in the vampire franchise when it opened in 2004.

One Teutonic exhib says the Gothic sequel benefited greatly from “Underworld’s” DVD success. The booker also notes modestly solid biz from “Syriana” and local pic “The Elementary Particles.”

In France, local sensation “Friends Forever” still dominated, but as it petered out, the overall B.O. dropped 38% compared with the previous frame. The pic finished at No. 1, but its 54% slide indicates it could finally be vanquished by a decent opener.

“Syriana” dropped 41% in its soph sesh despite George Clooney’s Oscar win. It’s the only Oscar pic that remains in the Gallic top 10.

Mars Films’ “Memoirs of a Geisha” opened in the fourth spot in France, wooing $1.69 million from 250 screens.

In Italy, local fare was also tops: For the third straight frame, 1980s nostalgic laffer “Notte prima degli esami” (Night Before Exams) maintained its top spot.

Oscars pics have not enjoyed a bump in Italy, with one booker saying, “Even if the films are candidates or Oscar winners, they don’t always capture the attention of our public.”

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