It's Bond again in busy market

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Amid a wild scramble for dates to gain a foothold for a year-end holiday run, the 21st entry of the James Bond franchise, "Casino Royale," dominated the overseas market for a fourth straight weekend, commanding $35.6 million from 7,700 screens in 69 territories to reach an international gross of $246.6 million.

The spy thriller emerged on top in the face of a barrage of family films, a new romantic comedy and a brace of action-adventure films as the major studios vigorously vie for a piece of the business at the most crowded time of the year. The summer season, which now covers April to September, and the year-end November-December span account for roughly 60% of the overseas boxoffice take, according to studio executives.

This past weekend and the year-end expectations suggest the direction of the offshore boxoffice flow this year. Some experts predict that a new record may be in the making. At this point, four companies -- 20th Century Fox International, Buena Vista International (Disney), Sony Pictures Releasing International and Warner Bros. Pictures International -- have each exceeded $1 billion in gross revenue from the international market. At the same time, Sony, Disney and Fox have each topped $3 billion in worldwide boxoffice revenue.

This past weekend's boxoffice activities support the anticipated Christmas-New Year jam-up as thousands of prints worked furiously around the globe, especially in Europe. In addition, a lot more will be joining the fray this coming weekend as Fox's "Eragon," a family fantasy about a dragon, hits the overseas market day-and-date with North America in some 76 markets, including key outlets like the U.K., Germany, France and Japan.

Warner Bros. Pictures' dancing-penguins film "Happy Feet" led the weekend's animation charge, stepping out with $29.9 million from some 6,000 prints in 37 markets, taking the No. 1 position in the U.K., France, Spain, Mexico and Belgium. Also on the animation front, DreamWorks/Paramount's "Flushed Away," adding 10 new dates including Germany, delivered $10.4 million from 3,427 screens in 30 countries.

The lack of a romantic comedy during the holiday period was remedied with the arrival of Nancy Meyers' written-and-directed "The Holiday," starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black. The film, released overseas by UIP/Universal and handled domestically by Sony Pictures, took in $10.1 million as it bowed in 10 markets, including the U.K., Spain and Russia.

Action fans were well represented by Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Departed," which earned $8.4 million over the weekend from 2,600 prints in 46 markets. The Martin Scorsese crime drama, maintaining a steady pace in holdovers, hit an international cume to date of $101.7 million.

Also making it to the $100 million benchmark was Fox's "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," which reached $104.5 million after a $4.7 million weekend from 1,972 screens in 25 countries. At this point, 15 films have hurdled the $100 million mark this year.

A significant addition to the holiday parade was the opening in Japan of Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima," the Japanese (and Japanese-language) view of World War II in Asia, following the director's earlier American outlook depicted in "Flags of Our Fathers." "Iwo Jima's" opening-weekend results nearly tripled that of "Flags of Our Fathers" and captured a 40% share of the top five films in the market, according to Warner Bros.

Other films seeking a stake in holiday business included BVI's action entry "Deja Vu," starring Denzel Washington, which took in $4 million from 981 screens in nine countries to lift its early cume to $11.8 million.

Aspiring for family attention are "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," which took in $2.5 from 850 screens in seven markets for a cume of $13.8 million; "Deck the Halls," which collected $2.3 million from 1,184 screens for a $6.3 million cume; and BVI's novelty 3D version of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas," which aroused $1.9 million in all from limited release (56 screens) in seven markets equipped with the technology -- U.K., Germany, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Mexico and Australia -- according to BVI.

Sony's "Open Season," another CG-animated offering, hopes to pick up a bit of the holiday trade after bowing No. 1 in Italy with $2 million from 484 screens and No. 6 in Japan with $1 million from 446 screens. Its international gross has reached $87.2 million.

UIP/Paramount's "Charlotte's Web" came in third in Australia (behind "Casino Royale" and "Borat") with $992,991 from 346 screens.

"Perfume: The Story of a Murderer," a Summit Entertainment/Constantin Film release, took in $2.1 million over the weekend, with Fox providing $842,000 from 90 in Taiwan to raise the foreign gross to $93 million.

As "Casino Royale" reaches for the brass ring to become the champion of the Bond series of films, it has taken in $80 million from the U.K., $31 million from Germany, $19 million from France and $10 million each from Spain and Russia. It was No. 1 in all 10 new openings over the weekend, including Australia ($5.4 million from 401 screens) and Mexico ($1.5 million from 564).

"The Nativity Story," a potential holiday contender, holds sixth place in Italy at its second weekend, after collecting $1.6 million from 331 sites.

Cume updates: "Over the Hedge," $179.1 million; "The Devil Wears Prada," $190.1 million; "World Trade Center," $91.1 million; "Children of Men," $26.6 million, "My Super Ex-Girlfriend, $35.9 million; "Little Miss Sunshine," $26.1 million; "A Good Year," $20.7 million.
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