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‘Escape 2 Africa’ heats up Europe

Film opens top in Germany, France, U.K.

LONDON — Animated sequel “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” got the festive season off to a flying start at the European box office with soaring bows in Germany, France and the U.K.

Euro auds again feasted on vampire romancer “Twilight,” which launched top in Spain and held top in Italy. Italo femmes are proving to have an especially voracious appetite for the Robert Pattinson starrer, which has now won the last three frames there.

In the U.K., “Escape 2 Africa” slightly outperformed upbeat pre-release expectations with a top place opening of $9.3 million (including $3.5 in previews from the previous Saturday and Sunday) at 520 screens via Paramount.

“Escape 2 Africa” dominated cinema trade, pulling over four times more than its nearest challenger, which was holdover “Four Christmases.” The seasonal laffer followed up on its big bow with a gritty drop-off of only 19% toward an impressive $6.9 million cume for Entertainment.

Jason Statham starrer “Transporter 3” was derided by the crix but did excellent opening weekend box office. The threequel netted $1.4 million at 322 via Icon. Result was considerably better than the openings for the two previous pics in the muscular action franchise. Bookers attribute success to the rising profile of topliner Statham and the homevid success of the previous two “Transporter” films.

Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling” held well in its soph sesh, dropping just 27% to $1.1 million and a $3.9 million cume.

The overall box office perf, and the top four especially, delighted exhibs given weekend saw lots of frenzied Christmas shopping.

In Germany, the box office soared 105.5% following the boffo showing of “Escape 2 Africa,” which displaced “Quantum of Solace” and kicked off the holiday season in grand style.

With $11.4 million, the Universal pic surpassed the initial weekend gross of its 2005 predecessor by $2.2 million, achieving one of the best starts of the year, but still behind “Solace,” which boasts the best start of the year with its take of more than $15 million. In second in its fifth week, “Solace” added $1.3 million to its $38 million cume.

Opening in third with the week’s second best bow and boosted by rave reviews, Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” garnered $880,221 via Concorde.

Other new top 10 entries included Kinostar’s “Valley of the Wolves 2,” a follow up to the controversial 2006 Turkish actioner. Attracting plenty of business from Germany’s large Turkish communities, pic opened in sixth with $484,059 from 69, giving it a boffo per-location average of $7,015.

Following in seventh was Warners’ “Four Christmases,” which rang up $433,732 from 155.

In France, “Escape 2 Africa” is a stonking success for Paramount. Its first five days banked a tidy $9.4 million — fifth best bow of the year.

A crappy critical reception seems to have done nothing to dent the pulling power of fellow new release “Agathe Clery.” The dark laffer about a racist yuppie who suddenly turns black earned Pathe $2.9 million.

Lauded by the crix, “Pour Elle” is performing very well for Mars. Toplining Vincent Lindon and Diane Kruger as a young couple forced to flee when she is accused of murder, it earned $1.4 million.

Luc Besson-penned shoot ’em up “Transporter 3” is pushing the million-ticket mark for EuropaCorp; off by 54% in its second frame, it’s cumed an impressive $7.4 million.

“Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One,” which was off 38% in its third frame toward a $9.5 million cume, continues the boffo perfs of the two-part biopic saga showing the life and death of Seventies gangster Jacques Mesrine. First-part “Mesrine: Death Instinct” continues to trundle along nicely at Gallic wickets.

In Italy, “Twilight” kept its fangs in the top spot in its third frame, chomping $1.5 million from 404 for a tasty $12.3 million running cume via Eagle Pictures. “Saw 5” also showed sharp teeth, bowing at $1.3 million off just 272 via 01 Distribuzione.

Italo biz for Disney’s “Bolt” is running slow. The third-placed dog hero toon dropped 44% in its second frame for $1.2 million and a soft $4 million take to date.

Danny Boyle’s Mumbai-set awards season contender “Slumdog Millionaire” bowed only moderately, at number 11, with $318,000 from 105 via Lucky Red, but is expected to now build from word of mouth.

Local laffer “Torno a vivere da solo” opened decidedly modestly with $446,000 from an ambitious 201 via Eagle Pictures.

The standout in Italy’s arthouse arena was Yank indie drama “The Visitor,” by Thomas McCarthy, which scored the frame’s highest per screen average — $5,300 — and pulled a handsome $122,000 bow off 23 via Bolero Film. Elsewhere, Mike Leigh’s “Happy Go Lucky” opened passably with $210,000 off 66 via Mikado.

In Spain, Aurum’s “Twilight” again lit up the charts, sucked $5.3 million in its traditional opening. Monday was a holiday in Spain and “Twilight” bit off an additional $1.2 million, for a $6.5 million gross to date.

Paramount’s holdover “Escape 2 Africa,” won the fight of the toons, coming in second in its soph sesh to move the cume up to $10.1 million.

In third, BVI’s “Bolt” took $2.3 million of which the 30 prints released in 3-D took an impressive $12,223 average.

Karma’s “Mongol” opened on 70 taking $327,216 and Notro’s “Miss Pettigrew lives for a day” bowed on $282,304, with decent screen averages of 4,683 and 3,464 respectively. On both films, exhibs are now relying on word-of-mouth.

Among holdovers, European Film Awards winner “Gomorrah” jumped 14% in its fourth frame for a $1.7 million cume.

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

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