LONDON — The crucial U.K. opening of Bond pic “Quantum of Solace,” a fortnight ahead of its domestic debut is the key happening at the European box office this weekend.

The U.K. bow is critical on many counts. The Brit superspy franchise remains one of the crown jewels of the local film industry, “Solace” is the biggest release of the season in Blighty and it needs to go well early overseas to build buzz for the Nov. 14 U.S. release.

Therefore, Brit industryites have their eyes peeled on the all-important “Solace” home turf opening. Despite some pretty mixed reviews, bookers are very bullish about its opening weekend prospects with most forecasting a $21 million (£13 million) Friday-Sunday take. If it does those numbers, it would match “Casino Royale,” which did $21.8 million, including chunky Thursday previews.

Optimistic projections for “Quantum of Solace” are based on excellent advance ticket sales, the fact that today is a school holiday, and the impact of Sony’s marketing campaign, which reached a stunning crescendo Wednesday night for the royal world premiere at London’s Leicester Square. The lavish, no-expenses spared preem was attended by Princes William and Harry and got front-page coverage in the nationals.

While a boffo bow is firmly in the cards for 007 and co., exhibs are less certain of whether it will demonstrate the same excellent staying power of “Casino Royale,” which wound up with a $107.5 million cume in Blighty. Sony will certainly be striving for a small soph sesh drop-off to keep momentum for the U.S. launch.

Also opening in the U.K are a pair of critically lauded Brit pics that should earn high screen averages at upmarket arthouse sites. Terence Davies’ “Of Time and the City” (BFI Distribution) and Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” (Pathe) both turned heads at Cannes and have also got love from the Brit crix. Pair are being released as counterprogramming to frenetic actioner “Solace.”

In Italy, “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” is the biggest opener; out on 530 via Buena Vista International after launching from the Rome Film Festival.

The crowded Italo frame also sees big bows for Dany Boon laffer “Welcome to the Sticks,” released on 340 via Medusa, in a key test of whether this Gallic megahit can travel. Italo crix are raving about “Sticks,” which La Repubblica calls “a textbook example of good popular cinema.”

Besides “HSM3,” four other titles are launching from the Rome fest. Gavin O’Connor’s New York cops drama “Pride and Glory,” the only U.S. pic in the Rome competish, is bowing on 250 via Eagle Pictures, with plaudits from crix. Teutonic terrorism drama “The Baader Meinhof Complex” bows on 119 via BIM amid mixed reviews, which should not dampen interest for Italo auds prone to analogies between the Baader Meinhof guerrillas and local terrorist group the Red Brigades.

Italo youth drama “The Past Is a Foreign Land,” by Daniele Vicari, bows amid raves from La Repubblica, which praised its “originality of vision,” on 180 via 01 Distribuzione.

Also setting out from Rome is another well-received Italo pic, “Si Puo Fare,” an ensembler by Giulio Manfredonia about a bunch of mental institution patients re-entering society.

Rounding out the barrage of Italo bows is “Donkey Xote,” the Spain-Italo co-production based on the Cervantes classic going out on 100 via co-producer Lumiq Studios and Revolver.

In Spain, bookers were divided about “HSM3’s” B.O. stamina before the pic’s opening. But after its splendid first weekend $5 million gross, they’re more optimistic. “Some youngsters will see the movie twice,” predicted an exhibber.

Among newbies, the strongest challenge to “HSM3” comes from Fox’s “Solo quiero caminar,” helmed by Agustin Diaz Yanes (“Alatriste”), which goes out on 323. The keenly awaited $10 million budgeted Spanish-Mexican co-production is expected to break a poor recent run for local bows.

Toplining Diego Luna, Elena Anaya and Ariadna Gil, the femme crime drama has received mainly upbeat reactions from local crix.

Aurum’s “Disaster Movie” goes out on a similar copy spread. Bookers expect takings in line with other movies from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. “Meet the Spartans” cumed $5.1 million last March.

Sony’s “Step Brothers” bows on 225 having received the cold shoulder from Spanish crix. “The height of imbecility,” said newspaper La Razon.

With no major films opening in Germany this week, chart toppers “HSM3” and “The Baader Meinhof Complex” look likely to continue their boffo runs, but the open field is also good news for some long-legged local hits.

Concorde’s “Die Geschichte vom Brandner Kaspar” has shown especially strong staying power — its box office take barely changed in its second frame and exhibs are expecting the Bavarian fantasy laffer, which stars local superstar Michael Herbig as Death, to continue drawing big crowds.

Likewise, Marco Kreuzpaintner’s fantasy epic “Krabat” is certain to continue pulling in moviegoers.

Among the four documentaries hitting theaters this week, Erwin Wagenhofer’s Austrian work “Let’s Make Money,” going out via Delphi, may get particular attention in view of the worldwide economic meltdown.

From the Iraq War to failed African agricultural policies and disastrous Mediterranean real estate development, the pic examines the global greed that led to the current crisis.

Other openers include Alpenrepublik’s award-winning “Mein Freund aus Faro,” by Nana Neul, a coming-of-age tale about a young woman in a small town who disguises herself as a boy from Portugal in order to get to know another girl; and Alexandre Aja’s horror pic “Mirrors,” starring Kiefer Sutherland, which goes out via Kinowelt.

In France, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” experienced a pretty good bow for Universal, opening Wednesday at $648,500 on 398 — an unusually low print run for a comic-based blockbuster in Gaul.

Helmer Guillermo del Toro wowed most Gallic crix: “Intelligent, full of humor and poetic,” felt Tele 7 Jours.

Laffer “Mes stars et moi” (My Stars and I) toplining heavy-hitter thesps Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Beart and Kad Merad, enriched StudioCanal to the tune of $240,720 on 307.

The light-hearted satire on the neurotic nature and luvviness of French cinematic celeb culture got mainly unlovely responses. “Agreeable, but nothing more,” said Premiere. “A lack of imagination at every level,” dissed Telerama.

“W” failed to win much commercial love on opening day in Gaul, where Oliver Stone’s work has been very hit and miss at the box office. It bowed at $146,875 on 245 for Metropolitan. “I’d have to say we’re disappointed,” said marketing exec Sebastian Chenard.

Reviews were mixed. Stone “shows with remarkable deftness how the cogwheels of a system so powerful can crush the president himself,” felt 20 Minutes. Le Monde begged to differ: “Stone never gets around to posing the question that has tormented the planet for the last eight years; what is this guy really up to.”

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