‘Dark Knight’ swoops into Europe

'X-Files' receives cool reception

LONDON — Domestic box office sensation “The Dark Knight” swoops into Europe this weekend looking likely to repeat its whammo U.S. bow.

Christopher Nolan’s brooding Batman actioner is expected to open top in its much-hyped openings in the U.K., Italy, Belgium, Holland and Scandinavia. This weekend’s other big Hollywood bow is “X-Files: I Want to Believe,” which is pushed out day and date with the U.S.

U.K. box office biz is expected to be particularly bumper this weekend thanks to the arrival of “Dark Knight,” the enduring appeal of holdovers such as “Hancock,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Mamma Mia!,” and forecasts of cloudy, showery weather.

“Dark Knight” has been front-page news most of the week in Blighty but not just because it’s one of the most eagerly anticipated summer blockbuster releases. Welsh-born topliner Christian Bale was arrested and bailed by British police after it emerged that his mother and sister had made allegations of assault. Incident is alleged to have taken place at the Dorchester Hotel on the evening of July 20 but it was not made public until after the pic’s glitzy European premiere in London on July 21.

Commercial expectations for “The Dark Knight” are sky-high. “It is going to go loopy. It can do $6 million a day over the three-day weekend,” forecast a London-based booker. “No mean feat for a film with its sizable running time.” Upbeat Thursday previews — more than $4 million — support exhib’s optimism.

The Brit crix have mostly lavished praise on “The Dark Knight.” “The parameters of the comic book blockbuster have shifted forever,” said the Times. Heath Ledger’s startling turn as the Joker has come in for especially high praise. “Heath is the best thing in the most powerful Batman movie yet,” declared the Sun tabloid.

Local helmer Gurinder Chadha’s teen coming-of-ager “Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging” gets a bullish release at 405 locations via Paramount. Reviews have been mostly mixed for the teen girl-skewed pic. Bookers expect modest results due to the continued pull of female-skewed “Mamma Mia!” and the sex appeal of Heath Ledger to Brit teen girls.

In Italy, “Dark Knight” is poised to dominate unopposed after bowing solidly on Wednesday with a $1.2 million one-day take from 640 prints.

The Warner Bros. release is being hailed by local exhibs as their summer savior because “it proves that even in summer, if the product is competitive, the audience responds with enthusiasm,” enthused Paolo Protti, topper of Italo exhibs org ANEC.

Italo reviews are generally raves with all Italo media noting that, as Corriere della Sera put it, “Knight” “is accompanied by the shadow of Heath Ledger’s death and by the recent arrest of Christian Bale.”

Counterprogramming against “Knight” is molto lightweight. The second-biggest Italo opener being Summit scarer “P2,” helmed by Franck Khalfoun, going out on just 25 via Eagle Pictures.

Warner Bros. is also outing two niche titles: action/adventure pic “Big City,” by Djamel Bensalah, and sci-fi thriller “Dante 01” by Marc Caro, both on 18.

In the arthouse arena, Werner Herzog’s “Invincible,” starring Tim Roth, is bowing on a dozen screens, seven years after its Venice preem.

In Germany, “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” goes up against current chart-topper “Mamma Mia!,” but it remains unclear whether Fox’s resurrected franchise still wields the old magic that made the TV series such a long-lasting hit.

“It’s been a long time since ‘The X-Files’ have been relevant to viewers as a TV series, and even longer as a theatrical film, and it might not be that significant for a lot of today’s moviegoers, although there are certainly die-hard fans who will flock to see it,” assessed an exhib. Local critics have largely panned the pic. “You don’t really know why a second film exists. A new story, an idea, a twist? On the contrary, the film presents less than what would be possible,” slammed daily newspaper Die Welt.

Also hitting theaters is Jan Hinrik Drevs’ drama “Underdogs,” about a group of prison inmates who get a shot at redemption by participating in a dog-training program, going out via Farbfilm Verleih. Pic generated plenty of media attention this week when it premiered to a very captive audience at Berlin’s Moabit Prison and then unspooled at a special screening the following day at the Buetzow Prison in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where the film was shot.

Zorro releases Sabine Derflinger’s drama “42plus,” about a dysfunctional family on holiday on the Italian island of Ischia forced to deal with the mother’s mid-life crisis and impulsive romance with a young beachcomber.

In Bernd Boehlich’s “Der Mond und andere Liebhaber,“ going out via Neue Visionen, an aging woman mourning the loss of her daughter finds escape in a romance with a man from Kashmir.

Hoping to attract teen auds, Senator rolls out comicbook spoof “Superhero Movie,” which is sure to benefit from the presence of local cult favorite Leslie Nielsen.

In France, “The Incredible Hulk” had no real competition for top spot among new releases bowing on Wednesday and clocked up at $1.1 million on 679 for SND.

As the 13th best opener so far this year, “Hulk” saw a good but not great bow, belying the critical lovefest afforded it and its Gallic helmer, Louis Leterrier. “Majestic directing,” hailed Le Parisien. “Leterrier takes up the torch with panache. An excellent surprise,” said Le Journal du Dimanche.

“Le Premier jour du reste de ta vie” (The First Day of the Rest of Your Life) opened at $270,000 on 261 for StudioCanal. Helmer Remi Bezancon’s second feature, tracing five days that change a family forever, has been well received. “Melancholic, amusing and tender, interpreted by a very good cast,” said Ouest France.

“City of Men,” Brazilian helmer Paulo Morelli’s exploration of the meanest of Rio de Janeiro’s streets, managed $43,940 on 87 for MK2. “Not a bad result, considering the beautiful weather in Paris,” said distribution rep Olivier Muehi.

After clocking up Spain’s second-biggest opening week this year, Will Smith’s tongue-in-cheek “Hancock” is likely to remain atop the Spanish box-office, on more than 500 screens.

Spy comedy “Get Smart,” starring Steve Carell, opens on 350 screens and has generated enthusiastic reviews. Pablo Nogueroles at Warners is confident that Carell’s notoriety and the light comedy appeal will give “Get Smart” legs and enable it to snap at Hancock’s heels this week.

The weekend’s other strong contender is Fox’s “X-Files: I Want to Believe,” which bows on 400 screens. The cult series has a loyal following in Spain and the first movie attracted 1.4 million admissions in 1998.

In other releases, Universal’s post-apocalyptic thriller “Doomsday” goes after niche business and Lu Zhang’s sandswept drama, “Hyazgar” (Desert Dream), gets a modest release in Madrid and Barcelona via Golem.

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

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