'Beowulf' enjoys end to No. 1 reign

Braces for 'Compass' big bow; Disney enchants o'seas

The holiday boxoffice season will kick off in earnest this week, and not a moment too soon.

This year seems to be ending with a whimper in contrast to the boxoffice bang that concluded 2006 when Sony's James Bond outing, "Casino Royale," along with such strong titles as "Flushed Away," "The Departed," "Borat" and "Happy Feet" were kicking up their heels.

New Line's "The Golden Compass," which opens overseas in at least 26 markets Dec. 5-7, is likely to change things considerably. It had better, because New Line has much riding on this fantasy — produced at a reported cost of $180 million — based on Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy.

"Compass" arrives on the international marketplace at a propitious time — when the U.S. dollar has fallen markedly since a year ago. As of Nov. 30, according to Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, the dollar has dropped an average of 7.4% against a basket of currencies in the most significant overseas markets for the U.S. majors.

The dollar has dropped 9.8% since Jan. 1 against the euro, 4.8% against the British pound, 6.6% against the Japanese yen, 6.9% against the Russian ruble, 11% against the Norwegian krone and 13.4% against the Thai baht.

The studios are in an advantageous position as exporters. They pull more gross dollars from various international markets on the strength of a falling domestic currency. The dollar denominated grosses look proportionally better. In effect, "Compass" has the currency winds at its back.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. International's "Beowulf" may be slowing a tad on the overseas circuit, but director Robert Zemeckis' pop culture rendering of the Old English classic still has enough boxoffice pop to seize the No. 1 spot, grossing $19.5 million from about 6,600 screens in 60 territories and hiking its cume to a respectable $75 million.

Best of all, "Beowulf" helped its distributor surpass the $2 billion gross mark internationally, the best foreign tally WBI has tallied since 2004 (when the U.S. dollar was much stronger). In that year, it recorded an all-time industry record of $2.2 billion. Of the major studios, it has been WBI that has rolled up the biggest overseas grosses in 2001, 2002, 2004 and last year.

"Beowulf" finished first in 13 of 16 new markets and 11 of the holdover markets, though the numbers were not astronomical. The No. 1 debut tally in Australia was $1.9 million from 269 screens. First place in Brazil produced $1.1 million from 299 sites. In Japan, "Beowulf" came up with $1.9 million from 268 spots, which will probably merit a No. 3 market position.

With impressive weekend admissions in Paris and its suburbs, Disney's "Enchanted" opened No. 1 in France, garnering $5.7 million from 701 screens. Overall, the musical fantasy qualified for the No. 2 slot with $11.8 million from 1,940 sites in 13 markets, pushing its overseas cume to $21.2 million.

20th Century Fox International's "Hitman" finished No. 3 with $10.7 million in its second weekend internationally on 2,134 screens in 29 territories. Its early cume stands at $12.5 million. The video game-based action vehicle had 17 openings including a strong Russia bow, with $2.5 million from 270 screens. It was No. 5 in Spain with $1.2 million generated from 298 sites while it placed No. 2 in its second weekend in the U.K., grossing $2.5 million from 349 locations.

Fourth place went to Universal International's "American Gangster," which muscled its way to $6.9 million from 1,626 screens in 17 territories, lifting its still-early international cume to $40.8 million. Coming in fifth, DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures International's "The Heartbreak Kid" drew $6.5 million from 2,072 screens in 32 markets, with its France opening providing $2 million of the total from 319 sites. Its overseas cume is $71.6 million.

The same distributor's "Bee Movie" bowed in six territories and tapped $6.4 million overall from 1,345 screens in 11 markets. The biggest of the new territories was Spain, where the Jerry Seinfeld animation vehicle grossed $2.8 million from 421 locations, a pace putting it ahead of comparable market runs of "Shrek" and "Happy Feet."

WBI's "Fred Claus" has rolled up an international cume of $7.9 million during the past three frames and finished No. 1 in the U.K. with an opening tally of $4 million from 456 screens. In Italy, it opened 13th to $189,000 from 93 spots.

Disney/Pixar's "Ratatouille" is close to overtaking "Spider-Man 2" as the 27th biggest overseas hit ever released thanks to a $2.1 million take from 2,055 screens in 17 territories. Its cume is now $405.6 million, just $4.4 million shy of "Spidey's" $410 million international take.

Openings in the all-important U.K. market — which was down 42% from last year's comparable weekend — included WBI's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" with Brad Pitt, which placed ninth for the weekend, grossing an average of $5,930 per screen at 61 screens and taking in $362,000. Paramount's "Sleuth" with Jude Law and Michael Caine drew a lackluster $113,198 from 132 locations in its second weekend for a market cume of $645,981.

In Italy, the second weekend for "1408" — local distributor Lucky Red's release of the Stephen King-based thriller — scared up $1.3 million from 228 screens, enough to rank fourth in the market, for a cume of $3.9 million in 10 days.

Other cume updates: Fox's "Lions for Lambs," $29.5 million; Sony/Summit Entertainment's "Resident Evil: Extinction," $92.8 million; I's "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," $31.7 million; Sony's "Surf's Up," $83.7 million; UI's "The Kingdom," $35 million; Focus Features' "Eastern Promises," $20.5 million; and UI's "The Borne Ultimatum," $211 million.