Bond racing to series champion

'Casino' hits $200 mil overseas in 20 days

With the $200 million mark expected to be reached Tuesday, "Casino Royale" appears well on its way to becoming the best ever of the 21 James Bond offerings at the overseas boxoffice. The Sony Pictures release, holding especially strong in northern Europe, dominated at foreign multiplexes for a third week in a row with a $44.7 million weekend from 54 countries.

The 20-day offshore attack of "Casino Royale" has Sony Pictures Releasing International executives eyeing a foreign gross of "up towards the mid-$300 millions," a goal that would surpass the $271 million cume of current Bond champion "Die Another Day."

As the newest Bond gears up to play through the year-end holiday season, it is facing a barrage of family-oriented films that are entering the market to establish a foothold for a festive-season breakout. Leading the animated parade are DreamWorks' "Flushed Away," which tallied $14.2 million from 2,542 screens in 22 markets, and Warner Bros. Pictures' "Happy Feet," which danced to $7.3 million from about 2,500 prints in 18 territories.

The major studios are not forgetting the action fans during the holiday period. The Martin Scorsese crime drama "The Departed" from Warner Bros. is displaying strong holdover power as it reached a cume of $90.5 million by picking up $8.7 million over the weekend from some 2,500 prints in 44 territories. Buena Vista International, the Walt Disney Co.'s overseas distribution arm, is relying on the Denzel Washington starrer "Deja Vu" to attract a piece of the action crowd following a No. 1 opening in Spain ($2.4 million from 432 screens) and a $3.5 million weekend in five markets.

And despite a batch of brickbats and a number of legal actions, 20th Century Fox's gross-out pic "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" from British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen seems to have a good chance of sticking around for holiday revelers, judging by its ability to take in $9 million over the weekend and lift its international gross to $96.5 million.

BVI's especially rigged holiday offering "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" maintained the franchise's appeal with a No. 1 bow in Mexico ($1 million from 310 screens) and a $1.9 million (from 377) third-weekend hold in the U.K. for a market cume to date of $5.1 million. "Santa 3's" overall international gross hit $10.3 million after a $3.7 million weekend from 1,380 screens in 16 markets.

Another holiday aspirant, Fox's Danny DeVito-Matthew Broderick starrer "Deck the Halls" found sparse cheer as it managed $2.4 million from 26 markets (including 16 new bows), opening No. 5 in the U.K. with $1.2 million from 307 screens in the U.K. and picking up only $235,000 from 99 screens in Italy.

Meanwhile, New Line's "The Nativity Story," described by one viewer as "a Christmas story without Santa Clause," arrived in the No. 4 slot in Italy with $693,189 from 437 screens, a take that represents about 74% of the country's boxoffice.

Sony's animated "Open Season," which reached $81.2 million after a $3.2 million weekend, opens in Japan on Friday and Australia later this month and is expected to play through the holiday season.

Sony expects to have "a big print count" available for "Casino Royale" during the holidays, said Mark Zucker, SPRI's distribution chief. He noted that the film, which opens this coming weekend in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and six Latin American countries, is doing especially well in the "Bond sweet spots" of the U.K., Germany, Scandinavia, Benelux and Switzerland.

Japan's $3.3 million opening from 443 screens, while not as potent as the European ones, is consistent with the appeal of the Bond entries in the market, Zucker said, noting that Japan usually delivers from $19 million-$20 million for a Bond film. On its third weekend in the U.K., "Casino" grossed $10.5 million from 989 screens for a market cume of $70.7 million, which is more than the take of any previous Bond, Zucker said.

"Flushed Away," which opened in 16 new markets over the weekend, is off and running as it prepares to enter a dozen more countries, including Germany, this coming weekend to settle in for the holiday run. Its cume to date has reached $22.5 million.

As it moves along, "Borat," which is expected to reach the $100 million mark any day now, continues to surprise. Its robust $450,000 bow in Israel from 30 screens was Fox's second-biggest opening ever in the market, according to the studio. It was also No. 1 in Portugal with $379,000. So far it has taken in $43.1 million from the U.K. in five weeks; $12 million in Germany, also from five; and $5 million from France in three. It has remained No. 1 in Australia for two weeks in a row, with a two-session take of $8.6 million from 387 screens.

According to Warner Bros., "Happy Feet" appeared on its way to taking the No. 1 spot in Italy ahead of the second week of local title "Anplagghed al Cinema" with a take of $1.9 million from 565 prints. As "Happy Feet's" early cume hit $12.9 million, it's set to take off this coming weekend in the U.K., Spain, Holland and Mexico, with Russia and Hong Kong set for Dec. 21, Korea for Dec. 22 and Australia for Dec. 26.

More weekend action: "Saw III," $3 million from 25 markets (cume: $50.6 million); "The Devil Wears Prada," $1.6 million from 16 (cume: $186.6 million); "The Prestige," $1.4 million from 21 (cume: $25 million); "A Good Year," $1.7 million from 38 (cume: $18.9 million); "Jackass No. 2," $1.1 million from 10 (cume: $10.8 million); "Barnyard," $1.1 million from 14 (cume: $30.7 million); and "Death Note: The Last Stand," $1.8 million from one (cume: $36.8 million).