'Eragon' fires holiday boxoffice

Dragon tale leads strong frame; overall take leading '05 by 7%

A robust holiday weekend at the overseas boxoffice — despite theater closings on Christmas Eve and Day in some European markets — added to the industry's confidence that the international market is clearly on its way to recovering from 2005's Year of the Slump. Preliminary estimates from foreign distribution executives indicate that the 2006 offshore boxoffice is running about 7% ahead of '05, and some predict that this year's results may come close to 2004's record take.

Amidst a massive gang-up of films of myriad genres for holiday moviegoers, 20th Century Fox's family fantasy "Eragon," by dint of 7,300 screens in 52 markets, led the festive weekend parade with a $21.9 million second-weekend gross that lifted its international cume to $63.9 million. "Eragon's" weekend totals came from No. 1 bows in France ($4.4 million from 754 theaters) and Belgium ($579,000 from 90) and a No. 2 opening in Italy ($2.1 million from 477). Two-weekend scores include $6.8 million from Germany, $6.5 million from Spain, $6 million from the U.K., $5.5 million from Japan and $3.8 million from Russia.

Many of the holiday weekend grosses are estimates because most of the major studios' European offices were closed Monday and Tuesday.

Sony's branded spy thriller "Casino Royale" became the highest-grossing James Bond ever in the worldwide market by reaching $454 million, topping "Die Another Day's" $431 million. Over the weekend, Agent 007 accounted for $15.4 million overseas, but the addition of Christmas Day on Monday raised the total to $19.4 million from 6,330 screens in 64 territories for an up-to-date overseas cume of $309.3 million. Openings included Korea ($3.8 million from 347 theaters), Hong Kong ($1.3 million from 39) and Central America ($177,000 from 105).

As part of family celebrations, many kids applauded dancing penguins and a rat flushed down a London sewer. Warner Bros.' "Happy Feet," overcoming many Christmas closings, pulled in an estimated $13.1 million from 5,800 screens in 55 markets, hoisting its international cume to $50 million. At the same time, DreamWorks' "Flushed Away" collected $7.1 million ($8.5 million including Monday) from 4,443 locations in 50 countries, bringing the cume to $61.2 million.

"Happy Feet" danced to $1.2 million from 178 prints in Korea, bowed to an estimated $1.1 million from 315 prints in Russia and thrilled Hong Kong with $422,000 from 36 prints. In the U.K.,. the scurrying penguins ranked No. 1 for a third consecutive weekend, taking $4 million from 466 locations for a market cume to date of $20.7 million. In the Philippines, it has remained No. 1 for five weekends in a row, and "Feet" held the No. 1 spot in Israel for a second weekend.

"Flushed Away's" major openings included Australia ($1 million from 200 locations) and Italy ($1 million from 254 with Monday's estimate), and strong holdovers were reported in the U.K. and New Zealand.

For action fans, there was Buena Vista International's Denzel Washington starrer "Deja Vu," which scored $6.4 million from 2,474 screens in 19 markets to provide a cume to date of $33.4 million, with sound second-week holdovers reported from the U.K. and Italy.

With comedy a recognized staple for New Year's celebrations, Fox got Ben Stiller's "Night of the Museum" off the ground in two Asian markets, scoring No. 1 bows in Korea ($5.4 million from 357 screens) and Singapore ($844,000 from 42). On Christmas Day, the fun flick took in $1.6 million from 900 screens in Mexico and is set to open this coming weekend in the U.K., Germany, Australia, Russia and Taiwan.

The family trade also welcomed "Charlotte's Web" with $2.4 million (including Monday's estimate) from 925 locations, with Japan grossing $780,000 from 450 screens, the Netherlands $105,000 from 96, Singapore $250,000 from 26 and New Zealand, $98,000 from 60.

BVI's "Curse of the Golden Flower," from renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou, picked up $2.2 million over the weekend from 158 screens in four Southeast Asia markets, with Taiwan providing $730,000 from 20 theaters, Singapore $660,000 from 40, Malaysia $485,000 from 49 and Indonesia, $319,000 from 49. Sony Pictures Classics is playing the Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat starrer in the U.S.

In Japan, Clint Eastwood's Japanese-language "Letters From Iwo Jima" maintained the No. 1 spot for a third straight weekend, finishing ahead of local opener "Ohoku" with an estimated $2.6 million from 322 prints, a drop of only 17%, according to Warner Bros. Meanwhile, "Flags of Our Fathers," Eastwood's English-language companion piece about the World War II battle, reached a cume of $23 million and is set to open in Spain on Jan. 3, Germany on Jan. 18 and Mexico on Jan. 26.

Over the weekend, Martin Scorsese's crime drama "The Departed" tallied an estimated $2.7 million from about 110 prints in some 35 markets to lift its international gross to $112.8 million. Key market cumes to date include the U.K., $23.8 million; Italy, $11.2 million; Spain, $11.1 million; France, $10.7 million; Australia, $8.7 million; and Germany, $5.8 million.

"Borat" reached a cume of $111.1 million, and "The Prestige," with $828,000 from 443 prints in 12 markets, hit $28 million.