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‘Rush Hour’ takes top spot in U.K.

Pic beats expectations with $5.5 million opening

LONDON — Summer tentpoles are starting to play out at the European box office but the latest Hollywood three-quel “Rush Hour 3” took the charts by storm in Blighty.

“Rush Hour 3” raced into top spot in the U.K. with a turbocharged opening of $5.5 million at 359 screens. The screen average of $15,223 was also streets ahead of the competish.

Local exhibs describe the result as “shockingly good. Above even the most optimistic expectations.”

Going into the weekend, bookers predicted that “Rush Hour 3” would be neck and neck with the third frame of “The Simpsons Movie” for top spot but the Chris Tucker/Jackie Chan vehicle comfortably took the chequered flag.

“Simpsons” dipped a respectable 46% to take $4.4 million for a $59.8 million running total.

Bizzers point to the popularity of the first two “Rush Hour” pics on homevid and credit Entertainment with a well pitched campaign. But the crime-busting pic is expected to fall away fast as another three-quel actioner — Paul Greengrass’ “The Bourne Ultimatum” — opens this weekend.

Sony’s animated surfing penguin toon “Surf’s Up” did not connect with Brit auds, taking just $1.2 million at 398 on its debut session. Bookers are disappointed with the result for the well-reviewed pic and suggest it has been the victim of auds’ increasing reluctance to embrace animated family fare after the market was overloaded in 2006 with some poor toons.

Michael Bay’s toy-based actioner “Transformers” is showing decent traction. It dipped 41% in its third weekend for a $36 million total. “Evan Almighty” followed up on its meek bow with a 41% soph sesh frame, moving its cume to a modest $6.1 million.

Late summer success story “Hairspray” once again held well. The Broadway tuner adaptation slipped just 30% in its fourth frame for an impressive $19.1 million running take. In recent weeks, the feelgood pic has worked as effective counterprogramming to the male-skewed actioners.

In France, the latest offering from revered helmer Claude Chabrol, “La Fille coupee en deux” opened very strongly for Wild Bunch — taking fifth spot it made $1.6 million on 292 in its first five days.

Top of the charts was “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” earning $4.6 million on 750 for Fox. “Simpsons,” Fox’s other key French summer release, dipped just 31% in its third frame for a cume of $19.5 million.

“Ratatouille” is spinning gold for the Mouse House in Gaul. The Paris-set pic about a French rodent with a passion for cooking has cooked up an astounding $25 million in its first 10 days.

And “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is still going steadily in its fifth frame. Down 28%, it’s cumed over $45 million for Warners. Nonetheless, it looks like being the least successful of the five Potter films in France.

“Transformers” has made decent if not stellar returns for Paramount. Down 39% in its third frame, the autobot actioner has banked $12.5 million.

In Spain, “Silver Surfer” grossed a solid first weekend total of $3.3 million at 510 prints.

The result was welcomed by bookers as weekend biz is traditionally flat in Spain in August while weekdays build. “Silver Surfer” banked another $545,000 on Monday.

The opener had to contend with widespread piracy said bizzers: “‘Fantastic Four’ bowed quite a long time after its U.S. opening. It’s readily available on the net,” said one distributor.

“Silver Surfer” went out on a more modest print run than many of the other summer popcorn movies such as “At World’s End” (827), “Spiderman 3” (758) and “Transformers” (651).

“Almost every big film in Spain is opening on way too many prints,” said one distributor. “Anything over a 300 print release is a lot for Spain. You’re talking about very marginal cinemas and second, third and fourth prints in a complex. Films crash and burn. And it’s difficult for other strong films to find the screen space. But exhibitors are desperate for the big films so print runs are higher.”

“Ratatouille” took second spot in its second frame, moving its ten-day cume to $8.9 million.

Julie Delpy’s walk and talker “Two Days in Paris” appealed to upmarket auds, taking $136,202 off 39 for arthouse distributor Golem.

With no new major contenders in Germany, “Simpsons” was back on top in its third frame after knocking “Transformers” from the number one spot.

Fox’s animated blockbuster took in $3 million from 830, down 41% from the previous week, for a running total of $30 million.

The boffo performance has made “Simpsons” the biggest earning animated film of the year, surpassing “Shrek the Third,” which cumed $26.4 million in Germany.

“Transformers” fell 56% in its second session to $2.6 million from 769 locations towards a $10.2 million cume.

At number three, “Phoenix” is poised to overtake “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” as the most successful film of the year so far.

“Phoenix” added a further $2.3 million towards a running tally of $55.8 million, just behind “At World’s End’s” $58.7 million cume.

Universal’s “Evan Almighty” followed in fourth with $1.3 million from 349.

Local exhibs are calling Diane Keaton starrer “Because I Said So” the sleeper hit of the summer. Pic’s box office remained almost unchanged — sliding a miniscule 2% — after Warner Bros. increased copies from 219 to 244 in its second week.

Marcus H. Rosenmueller’s homegrown “Beste Zeit” has benefited from strong word of mouth and an increase in copies. The Constantin pic saw its box office climb 47% to $307,310 from 65 locations — up from 60 last week — for a total $1 million.

Kinowelt’s handball championship documentary “Project Gold” went from 62 to 81 copies but still dropped 12% to $138,314 for a running total of $477,792.

Additional reporting by Ed Meza (Germany), Emilio Mayorga (Spain) and David Hayhurst (France).

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