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‘Rider’ storms box office

Overseas fans connect with action tale

“Ghost Rider” outran the competition in its overseas launch, winning the weekend at the international box office with $16.4 million from 1,871 playdates in two dozen markets, edging sturdy comedy “Night at the Museum.”

The weekend also saw a boffo Brit launch for cop spoof “Hot Fuzz” with $11.5 million at 422 — the fourth biggest opening for an English pic on its home turf.

“Ghost Rider” connected with action fans in every market in which it launched, led by Russia with $4.1 million at 401 in the nation’s 15th largest opening, followed by Spain with $2.9 million at 415, Mexico with $2.1 million at 403, Australia with $1.9 million at 208 and Taiwan with $1.5 million at 120. Nicolas Cage vehicle also opened impressively in Malaysia with $760,000 at 60 and in Singapore with $680,000 at 40.

With its boffo U.S. debut, “Ghost Rider” has already grossed $68 million worldwide and could see a solid performance in coming weeks. It will launch next weekend in France, Germany and Scandinavia and move into the U.K. and Japan in the following frame.

Fox continued to cash in on “Night at the Museum” with $14.1 million at 3,984, led by its French soph sesh with $3 million at 676, off 34%. Ben Stiller laffer trailed openings for French pics “Taxi 4” and Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en rose.”

“Night at the Museum,” which has performed solidly in every major market, launched respectably in China with $1.9 million at 300 and in Hong Kong with $1.8 million at 46, including previews, for the second-largest Fox opening in that market after “The Day After Tomorrow.” “Museum” also opened well in Belgium with $886,000 at 85 and in Holland with $518,000 at 100.

“Night at the Museum” has eclipsed $250 million overseas and $488 million worldwide — the 48th highest of all time. It’s due to open in its final market, Japan, in mid-March.

The U.K. launch of “Hot Fuzz,” with Simon Pegg’s investigator probing deaths in an English village, marked the fifth-largest Brit debut for a Universal pic behind “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” “King Kong,” “Love Actually” and “Hannibal.” David Kosse, president of the newly minted Universal Pictures Intl., told Daily Variety that the pic’s blend of comedy and action helped it attract all quadrants.

“We can’t pretend that we expected it to do this much,” he added.

Kosse predicted a final U.K. gross of over $28 million and asserted that the initial results portend strong biz in other markets. “Hot Fuzz,” from the team behind “Shaun of the Dead,” will open in Australia on March 15, in Holland and Russia on April 5, in Norway and Sweden on April 13 and in the U.S. on April 20.

Holdover biz stayed solid from Warner’s “Blood Diamond” and Sony’s “The Pursuit of Happyness,” which have taken advantage of respective Oscar noms for Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith as they finished in the top three along with “Night at the Museum” for the past three weekends. “Blood Diamond” drew $8.5 million from 3,400 prints in 59 markets, led by $1.4 million each from its third French frame and its second Spanish sesh.

“Pursuit” grabbed $7.8 million at 2,900 in 50 markets, led by its fourth Japanese weekend with $1.3 million at 272. Like previous Will Smith pics, “Pursuit” has shown impressive foreign traction, with $104.3 million overseas and $265 million worldwide.

Italian comedy “Night Before Finals — Today” generated socko biz with $7.6 million at 604 Italian locations in the five days since its Valentine’s Day debut. Its $6 million taken Friday-Sunday outgrossed the combined total of the next four pics — “Night at the Museum,” “Hannibal Rising,” “The Holiday” and “Manuale d’amore 2.”

Overall foreign biz stayed on a healthy track, with the frame easily outperforming the same weekend in 2006, when “Munich” led with $7.4 million as the Turin Olympics depressed moviegoing.

Warner’s “Music and Lyrics” stayed in tune internationally with $6.5 million at over 1,000 in eight markets, led by a solid U.K. soph sesh with $2.8 million, off only 24%. The romantic comedy has also grossed $2.3 million at 275 in Australia since its Valentine’s Day launch and finished a close second to “Ghost Rider” for the weekend.

Paramount’s “Charlotte’s Web” ensnared $5.2 million at 2,027, mostly from its second U.K. frame with $3.7 million at 492, up 1% amid school holidays. “Web” has cumed $43 million overseas and $124 million worldwide.

Paramount’s “Dreamgirls” drew $3.6 million at 1,347 in 26 markets, led by a solid Japanese launch with $1.7 million at 288 as it contended for the No. 1 slot with the fourth frame of local hit “Dororo.” “Dreamgirls” has cumed a moderate $19.1 million overseas, not surprising given the challenge of marketing a musical.

“Rocky Balboa” punched in with $3.4 million at 1,729, including a modest Korean launch of $772,000 at 230 for a sixth-place finish behind five local pics. The sixth “Rocky” has totaled a respectable $65 million overseas, $5 million behind domestic cume.

Fox’s “Epic Movie” took in $2.4 million at 670 in a dozen markets and its “Notes on a Scandal” grossed $2.2 million at 406, led by a third-place Australian opening of $1.1 million at 100. And its “The Last King of Scotland” drew $1.8 million at 550, led by a French launch of $557,000 at 103, lifting the foreign take to $12.8 million, with over two-thirds coming from the six-week run in the U.K.

Universal’s limited foreign launch of “The Good Shepherd” grossed $1.7 million at 396 as it won an ensemble award at the Berlin Film Festival. It opened fourth in Australia with $764,000 at 175 and sixth in Germany with $694,000 at 129.

Warner expanded Oscar best picture contender “Letters From Iwo Jima,” which had been playing only in Japan, into 18 markets in limited runs and drew $1.5 million from 560, led by Spain with $364,000 at 68, Italy with $212,000 at 47 and Brazil with $180,000 at 41. The Japanese run has totaled nearly $42 million in 11 weeks, or more than three times the U.S. cume.

Paramount’s international launch of “Norbit” generated $527,000 at 100 in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. The comedy’s set to hit major markets in coming weeks, starting with Australia.

Universal’s “The Holiday,” which has generally shown better traction overseas than Stateside, took in $1.6 million at 814 to lift foreign cume past $124 million, nearly double its domestic total. The romantic comedy opens March 24 in Japan.

Other notable performers were BVI’s “Wild Bunch 4,” with $1.6 million at 950 for a $12 million total in German markets; “Babel,” with $1.2 million at 610 in Paramount territories; and Lionsgate’s “Saw III,” with $1.1 million to lift foreign gross to $75 million as the sequel nears the U.S. total. “Saw” trio have generated $220 million domestically and $180 million overseas.

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