'Girl' power taking hold across Europe

Yelllow Bird trilogy closing in on $150 mil worldwide

BERLIN -- Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have conquered Europe. The goth hacker and investigative journalist characters of Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" crime trilogy continue to push the boxoffice limits of what a European title can deliver.

Taken together, the three titles from Sweden's Yellow Bird -- "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" -- are closing in on a $150 million worldwide boxoffice take. That's with the first film still to bow in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, and the second just starting its boxoffice run outside Scandinavia.

"The Girl Who Played With Fire" opened to an impressive $2 million in Germany this weekend, actually topping the bow of the first feature in the series.

"We've seen this trend in Scandinavia already; the second film opened stronger," Mikael Wallen, managing director at Yellow Bird, told THR in Berlin. "Overall, the boxoffice for the second film was just 10% lower than the first. We had expected a 25% drop."

Yellow Bird parent company Zodiak Television has sold the "Millennium" trilogy to more than 40 countries worldwide. The Swedish group is in advance talks with Sony Pictures for an English-language adaptation of the trilogy, which Scott Rudin would produce along with Yellow Bird's Ole Sondberg and Soren Staermose.

The "Millennium" phenomena is even more astounding when you realize the project was originally conceived, not as a pan-European blockbuster franchise, but as a single, Swedish feature film and two direct-to-DVD sequels.

Yellow Bird bought the rights to Larsson's books back in 2005, before they were published and before his untimely death.

"We got in very early," Sondberg told THR. "It gave us a unique advantage, particularly with marketing, because we were able to deliver the films as the books were still coming out. Usually when you option a property, the film is released years after the book has had its run."

Staermose said he first realized they had a hot property on their hands when, during production, Yellow Bird started fielding calls from "La Pais, Le Monde, all these huge European newspapers who wanted to come on set," he told THR. "The books were becoming so big that suddenly everyone was interested in this little Swedish movie."

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Yellow Bird was able to capitalize on that interest, convincing the television channels -- Swedish and German -- that put up the bulk of the films' financing to push back their broadcast dates to allow a theatrical run for all three films in the trilogy.

"We had to tighten the release dates, though," Staermose said. "The three came out very quickly one after each other in Sweden and it's a similar story in many other territories.'

But the TV financing structure does bring one major advantage. Because "Millennium" was conceived from the start both as three films and a six-part TV series, Yellow Bird will be able to follow up the trilogy's theatrical run with a DVD box set containing a full two hours of additional material.

Even without Sony, it looks like "The Girl" will be earning for Yellow Bird for some time to come.