Awards buzz lifts niche fare abroad

'No Country' exceeds expectations

Awards season fare found its foothold at the overseas box office during the Jan. 18-20 weekend.

The Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” saw big biz from a modest spread in its U.K. debut, grabbing $2.7 million from only 164 runs, for an international total of

$5.2 million. Paramount is distribbing overseas.

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. “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. On top of eight Oscar noms, “Old Men” garnered nine BAFTA nominations, behind local fave “Atonement” with 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. “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.”

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DreamWorks-Par’s bigscreen musical adaptation “Sweeney Todd,” directed by Tim Burton and toplining Johnny Depp, sang profitably in its Japanese and Korean launches.

In Japan, film grossed $3.76 million from 400 screens, topping the box office for the frame. “Sweeney” grossed $2.74 million in South Korea for an international cume of

$6.5 million.

Distrib Warner Bros. said “Sweeney’s” showing in Japan and South Korea was due to the popularity of both Burton and Depp.

Commencing its international run in Australia, Fox’s quirky teen pregnancy dramedy “Juno” proved fertile enough, grossing $1.6 million from 167 theaters.

U.K. period pic “Atonement” — benefiting from its Golden Globe win for best drama — crossed the $50 million mark at the international box office, due to a resurgence in interest that resulted in a $4 million gross for the Jan. 18-20 frame.

Elsewhere, Oscar-nommed “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 weekend previews in Blighty.

But it was still the Hollywood blockbuster that ruled overall, specifically, Warners’ Will Smith sci-fi actioner “I Am Legend.”

Marking its fifth consecutive weekend victory, “Legend” grossed a whammo $29 million from 6,200 prints in 54 markets for an international cume of $262.5 million. That’s slightly ahead of the pic’s domestic gross of $248.5 million.

“Legend” crossed the $500 million mark at the worldwide box office over the weekend, finishing up with a cume of $511 million, outpacing expectations. Warners now expects the pic to have a strong shot at nearing the $400 million internationally.

Among new studio pics, Paramount’s monster pic “Cloverfield” and Fox’s “27 Dresses” performed solidly in limited international engagements. The two pics led the domestic market over the weekend.

“Cloverfield” grossed $4.3 million from 432 runs, while “Dresses” grossed $2.5 million.

Among European-bred fare, the standout of the Italo frame was 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 Marseilles pulled $485,000 from 79, for a $1 million cume.

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

Ongoing controversy surrounding “Keinohrhasen” hasn’t hurt the pic’s standing on the charts. Complaints by angry parents about the film’s age-6 classification despite explicit sex scenes and salacious dialogue seem 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.

In Spain, producer Tornasol can breathe a sigh of relief after 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 an impressive $12,162. Word of mouth among the popcorn crowd is mixed. But exhibitors are upbeat, suggesting “Murders” could take $12 million.

Adam Dawtrey in the U.K., David Hayhurst in France, Emilio Mayorga in Spain, Ed Meza in Germany, Mark Schilling in Japan and Nick Vivarelli in Italy contributed to this report.