LONDON — Awards season fare started making power moves at the European box office this weekend where “No Country for Old Men” — which sports eight Oscar noms — blasted big biz from a modest spread in Blighty.

Elsewhere fellow Oscar nominees “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “American Gangster” opened well in their French and Italo debuts, respectively, and “Sweeney Todd” sliced off a chunky $2 million in Saturday and Sunday previews in Blighty.

Of the big Euro holdovers, sci-fier “I Am Legend” continues to show good traction across the continent underlining the bona fide box office appeal of topliner Will Smith overseas.

The Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” opened whammo in Blighty with $2.5 million at just 164 screens. The screen average of $14,976 was streets ahead of any other pic in the U.K. top 15 and placed “Old Men” second in the charts.

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“Old Men” result was roughly double pre-release industry expectations, which took account of the very positive reviews from the Brit crix.

Rising BAFTA and Oscar buzz looks to be attracting auds. As well as its eight Oscar noms, “Old Men” garnered a joint second-best nine BAFTA nominations, behind local fave “Atonement” on 14 noms.

“ ‘No Country for Old Men’ could be the first quarter 2008 box office equivalent of ‘Lost in Translation’,” suggested a London-based exhib, who added that, “Paramount execs must have fallen off their chairs on Monday when they saw the results — awards season exposure could drive the final cume beyond $15 million.”

“Alien vs. Predator — Requiem” opened top in Blighty with $3.9 million at 399 screens via Fox. As with “Old Men,” the bow exceeded booker’s expectations. Industryites attribute opening weekend success to the recent dearth of popcorn actioners.

Upbeat “Requiem” and “Old Men” debuts were particularly impressive given Tim Burton’s London-set “Sweeney Todd” previewed successfully on Jan. 19 and 20.

“I Am Legend” took a bit of a hit from “Requiem,” slipping 47% in its fourth session. But running cume of $46.4 million has no one grumbling. The Dec. 26 Warner Bros. release has spearheaded January cinema trade in the U.K.

The surprise success story “P.S. I Love You” has also greatly contributed to a solid 2008 so far. The romantic comedy based on a bestselling debut novel by Cecelia Ahern, the daughter of Ireland’s Prime Minister, dipped just 18% in its third frame on U.K. wide release for an impressive $14.1 million via Momentum.

In Italy, “I Am Legend” landed the top spot in its second frame. But that didn’t keep “American Gangster” from making a killer Italo opening.

“Legend,” which launched megabig last weekend, dropped 49%, pulling $4.3 million off 503 for a $15 million running cume via Warner Bros.

Denzel Washington/Russell Crowe dope-dealing thriller “Gangster” scored the Italo frame’s highest per-screen average — $9,140 — and opened a close second to “Legend” with $4.2 million from 457 via Universal.

“Alvin and the Chipmunks” hopped down handsomely in Italy debuting at $1.8 million off 256. The Fox live-action/animation title clicked with the Italian family crowd as it has done elsewhere in Europe.

But the Italo frame’s real standout is Gallic helmer Abdellatif Kechiche’s “The Secret of the Grain,” which saw a 44% increase in grosses in its second weekend after Lucky Red doubled the prints. Kechiche’s naturalistic depiction of Tunisian immigrants living in Marseille pulled $485,000 from 79, for a $1 million running cume.

A continuing boffo performance by “I Am Legend” and a strong debut by “P.S. I Love You” buoyed the German box office despite an overall drop of 7.7% from the previous frame.

“Legend” was down 53% in its soph session but still pulled in an impressive $5.1 million from 717 locations on its way to $17.6 million cume.

The Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler melodrama “P.S. I Love You” followed at number two, opening with $4.8 million from 494 via Tobis.

In third, Warners’ “Keinohrhasen” was down a slight 11% in its fifth frame, pulling in $4.2 million for a running total of $32.7 million.

Ongoing controversy surrounding “Keinohrhasen” hasn’t hurt pic’s standing in the charts. Complaints by angry parents about the film’s age-six classification despite explicit sex scenes and salacious dialogue seems to have enticed viewers, as has a recent spat between Til Schweiger, who produced, directed and stars in the film, and the German Film Academy over the org’s refusal to consider the pic for this year’s German Film Awards.

At number four, Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” also in its fifth week, continued to hold well with $818,576 on its way to an $8.3 million cume.

Universal’s “Kite Runner,” on screen at only 81 locations, debuted in sixth with $660,976, giving it an outstanding per-location average of $8,160.

In Spain, producer Tornasol can breathe a sigh of relief after their ambitious crime thriller “Oxford Murders” brought home the bacon with $3.2 million from 263 — good enough for top spot.

Takings were above the highest expectations for the Alex de la Iglesia helmed pic, which stars Elijah Wood. Copy average was a really impressive $12,162.

Word of mouth among the popcorn crowd is mixed. But exhibitors are upbeat, suggesting “Murders” could take $12 million.

Despite generally bad crix and lukewarm expectations, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” released by Aurum on 260 prints, took an acceptable $1 million. “Maybe, the movie benefited from Javier Bardem’s potential Oscar glory,” mulled an exhibber.

Joe Wright’s “Atonement,” from UPI, lost traction in its soph sesh, sliding 40% to $955,100 off 191 and a $3 million cume.

Opener DeAPlaneta’s “In the Valley of Elah” took a decent $600,112 on 120 prints. “It’s the kind of movie with high-octane political content that finds considerable auds in Spain,” said an exhibber.

Lebanon’s sweet “Caramel” went down pretty well, bowing at $217,396 on a contained 50 copies via Alta Films and setting the frame’s fourth-highest screen average — $4,257.

“We feel really happy. Pic opened on 50, but we expect ‘Caramel’ to have good word-of-mouth and will have good legs, even on weekdays. It’s an excellent figure,” enthused Enrique Gonzalez Kuhn of Alta Films.

In France, biz is bouncing out of a temporary slump thanks to a batch of solid performers.

Local pic “A Widow at Last” is a hit for French helmer Isabelle Mergault and Gaumont. The laffer took over $4.3 million on 479 in its first five days.

Tom Hanks starrer “Charlie Wilson’s War” also enjoyed a solid first frame for Par. The Mike Nichols-helmed political biopic made $2.1 million on 300 in the same period.

Sean Penn directed “Into the Wild” has enjoyed a solid perf for Pathe. Down only 11% in its second frame, it has cumed $4.4 million on 223.

Met with generally good reviews, spine-tingler “1408” has performed better than most horror thrillers in Gaul of late. Its first five days earned TFM $1.2 million on 195.

“Survivre avec les loups,” local helmer Vera Belmont’s harrowing true-life tale of a Jewish girl’s journey across half of Nazi-occupied Europe in search of her parents, has pleased BAC, making $1.1 million on 192 in its first five days.

“It’s doing very well in both bigger and smaller markets, so we think its run will extend into the school holidays in February,” said BAC’s head of marketing Matthieu Piazza. “We’ve also added more than 40 more prints around France.”

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