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‘Museum’ ban helps crown ‘Happyness’

Smith starrer tops international box office

Thanks in part to a Brit theater chain’s ban on Fox’s “Night at the Museum,” Sony’s “The Pursuit of Happyness” was tops at the international B.O. over the latest frame, marking the first time in six weekends “Night” was not the brightest pic abroad.

The top three pics on the charts were separated by less than $2.5 million in a tight race, with “Blood Diamond” also in the hunt.

Overall, biz surpassed the same weekend a year ago, when “Munich” led with $13.3 million.

Even if “Night” had not been sent packing from Blighty chains — due to Fox’s decision to shorten its DVD release window — it would have been a close “Pursuit.”

“Pursuit” may be about the American dream — Will Smith stars as a homeless father who makes good — but international auds seem to be connecting with the pic, too. “Happyness” pulled in $16.2 million from 25 markets to raise its overseas cume to $71.1 million. Pic has already been a hit domestically, having taken in $157.7 million, and nabbing Smith an Oscar nom for best actor.

Best international figures came from the pic’s second-place Spanish launch, with $2.4 million at 286 engagements. Also helping the Smith starrer were its plays in Japan, France, Germany and a Mexican debut.

Meanwhile, Paramount’s “Dreamgirls,” playing in 11 foreign markets so far, bowed at No.1 in the U.K., scoring $2.6 million from 270 theaters.

But “Dreamgirls” isn’t working everywhere, as musicals from the States tend not to travel well.

For example, the pic plunged 71% in Italy to a paltry $107,000 on 98 in its second week. Italo cume is just $600,000 to date. In Spain, “Dreamgirls” lost 45% of its biz in its second sesh: Pic ranked No. 8, taking in $347,259 off 183 with an average of $1,897 per copy.

“Night at the Museum,” meantime, has taken in $213.8 million overseas and is still playing in 50 markets, despite being beaten by “Happyness.” The Ben Stiller comedy drew up $14.5 million in its latest frame; it still has yet to open in France and other territories.

“Night” bowed boffo in Italy, where the laffer scored $4.7 million on 471 for a stellar $10,000 screen average, ousting local comedy “Manual of Love 2” from the top spot.

But “Night” went practically dark in the U.K.: Brit biz dropped steeply by 87% to $274,000 at 190 in its sixth weekend.

International B.O. was a boon to Warner Bros.’ political adventure “Blood Diamond,” which has taken in $46 million overseas. Pic seems destined to do better beyond U.S. borders: Its domestic B.O. stands at $54.1 million after nine weeks in theaters, and it still has some significant bows abroad, including Mexico and Spain. “Diamond” cut $13.8 million in its latest campaign, from 3,200 screens.

Rounding out the top five were the latest installments of two familiar franchises: “Rocky Balboa” and “Casino Royale.”

“Rocky,” which Fox is rolling out overseas while MGM does domestic, knocked out some good rounds to take in $5.4 million from 21 markets. Pic’s overseas cume is $46.7 million.

Sony’s James Bond pic “Casino” rolled its cume to $415.7 million. Pic is still playing in 44 markets. “Casino” had a solid spin in China, where it turned out $6.9 million at 468, including $4 million over the weekend. It’s the first 007 Bond pic to play there.

Turning to Oscar pics, “Babel” continued to outplay its domestic run, tacking in $3.6 million at 1,126 to lift its foreign cume to nearly $59 million. Pic has played well in Spain, where it lost just 28% of its biz in its sixth frame, to place fourth, taking in $861,640 off 214 with an average of $4,026 per copy.

Pic’s solid perf has some Spanish exhibs scratching their heads.

“The movie is not for casual viewing, but (its success) can’t be only because of Brad Pitt,” says one exhib. “Maybe audiences are becoming more and more upscale.”

Fox’s Brit launch of “Notes on a Scandal,” meantime, wrote up $2.3 million at 300 in its first foreign outing. Studio’s “The Last King of Scotland” pulled in $1.4 million at 378 in 15 markets to push its foreign gross to $8.3 million.

Warner Bros.’ “The Departed” shot down $1.8 million at 1,200 in 31 markets. Its foreign cume is $142.4 million.

But even as B.O. was up from a year ago for Hollywood pics, local productions continued to take their toll.

In Mexico, “KM 31,” the first local horror film in a decade, bowed Feb. 2 at No. 1 with 275 prints, besting Sony’s release of “Pursuit of Happyness,” which came in at No. 2. Mexican slasher pic also took out “Apocalypto,” which was playing in its second week.

Distribbed by Televisa film arm Videocine, “KM’s” weekend cume of more than $1.5 million left it as the third strongest opening for a Mexican film ever, behind “El crimen del Padre Amaro” and “Una pelicula de huevos.”

Pic, the second from indie production company Lemon Films, is now on track to make around $7 million.

In Italy, local sensation “Manual of Love 2” may have been ousted by “Museum,” but the pic still took in $2.7 million on 494 at No. 2. Pic has cumed $21 million.

And local Italo helmer Pupi Avati’s comedy “La cena per farli conoscere,” packed with stars including Francesca Neri, bowed at No. 4, pulling $1.4 million on 262 and outshining Oscar-nommed “Blood Diamond,” which made $1.2 million on 273 at No. 5 in its second week, for a $3.3 million cume.

Gorka Bilbao Camatta in Spain, Nick Vivarelli in Italy, Dave McNary in Hollywood and Michael O’Boyle in Mexico contributed to this report.

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