Bond starts holiday b.o. parade

New spy adventure's powerful $43.9 mil bow sets mood for season

As the major studios maneuver to position their holiday season offerings in the overseas market, the newest James Bond offering, "Casino Royale," took a giant step forward in the race for the year-end boxoffice championship by unseating "Borat" for weekend honors, opening to $43.9 million in 32 markets compared to the mocumentary's third weekend total of $14.5 million from 25 countries.

At the North American boxoffice, the 27th 007 adventure was beaten by a narrow margin by Warner Bros. Pictures' CG-animated "Happy Feet," which is slowly entering the offshore market before a gradual foreign expansion that begins this coming weekend before boldly moving into December. Warner Bros. expressed satisfaction with "Happy Feet's" early debut, calling attention to "strong openings" in Asia and Puerto Rico before the family film enters Brazil this weekend.

At the same time, Buena Vista International is seeking a piece of the holiday business with such family fare as "Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" and a 3D update of Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

"Casino Royale," which bowed on 3,061 screens, extracted $25.5 million from 988 in the U.K. to become the third-highest three-day grosser ever in the market, following "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." In Russia, where it tallied $5.1 million from 631 screens, the Bond film became the eighth-biggest non-Russian film at the local boxoffice, according to Sony Picture Releasing International. Sony added that, in India, where "Casino" took in $3.3 million from 631 screens, it was the biggest-ever opening for a non-Indian film and tallied 92% better than "Spider-Man 2." Eight countries making up the Middle East delivered $1.2 million from 72 screens in what was termed the second-biggest opening ever in the territory. This coming weekend, the rest of Europe, excepting Italy but including France, Germany and Spain, are set to welcome Daniel Craig as the new James Bond.

British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's in-your-face "Borat" rolled merrily along at overseas multiplexes but was not received as attentively in certain language-pure markets. In France, "Borat" came in third behind two local films, scoring a good $2.3 million nationally from 269 screens, which was helped by a strong showing in the Paris metropolitan area. In Spain, "Borat" arrived at No. 5 with $1 million from 288. There also were No. 1 openings in Norway ($732,000) and South Africa ($210,000). For the most part, "Borat" has been holding extremely well, with percentage drops on the acceptable side. Three-weekend market totals include $35.5 million from the U.K.; $9.3 million from Germany; $1.7 million from Belgium; and $1.7 million from Switzerland. The cume to date has reached $53.6 million.

"Happy Feet" beat out "Casino Royale" for the No. 1 spot in Puerto Rico with an estimated $430,000 (with previews) from 63 prints, according to Warner Bros. It was second to "Casino Royale" in Taiwan ($308,500 from 104) and Malaysia ($263,0000 from 46).

"The Devil Wears Prada" moved its cume to $172.5 million after opening No. 2 in Japan with $1.6 million from 299 prints. Local film "Death Note," released in the market by Warner Bros., held the No. 1 position for a third weekend with $3.6 million from 334 for a market cume to date of $26.3 million.

Martin Scorsese crime drama "The Departed," via Warner Bros., maintained a steady pace, picking up $6.8 million over the weekend from 2,200 prints in 37 markets to lift its cume to $69.4 million.

Sony animated entry "Open Season" pulled in another $6.2 million from 3,900 screens in 50 markets to reach a cume of $71.5 million.

Playing in 23 markets over the weekend, Lionsgate's "Saw III" extracted $6.5 million from some 1,771 screens to reach an international gross of $35.4 million. Weekend openings saw Russia deliver $1 million; Japan, $882,113; Mexico, $444,554; and Sweden, $170,439.

"The Prestige" (cume: $18.1 million) grossed an estimated $4.3 million from 1,300 prints in 22 countries, opening No. 1 in Australia with $1.1 million from 198 screens and generating $820,000 in France from 282.

The Russell Crowe starrer "A Good Year" took in $3.7 million from 1,680 screens in 23 countries, opening No. 4 in Korea with $790,000 from 150. The cume now stands at $13.1 million.

"My Super Ex-Girlfriend" opened No. 1 in Italy ($1.5 million from 250) to up its foreign gross to $33.1 million.

"Flags of Our Fathers" grossed an estimated $1.6 million in 11 markets from 1,090 prints to hoist its international cume to $16.5 million.

More weekend action: "Babel," $3.5 million (cume: $12.8 million); "Step Up," $2.4 million (cume: $31.3 million); "Seven Dwarfs 2," $2.6 million (cume: $26.5 million); "Over the Hedge," $888,799 (cume: $177.9 million); "You, Me and Dupree," $1.1 million (cume: $52.2 million); "Children of Men," $1.7 million (cume: $22.1 million); "Barnyard," $1.2 million (cume: $26.4 million); "World Trade Center," $1.1 million (cume: $88.2 million).