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No. 6 ‘Alexander’ thinking globally

Times Staff Writer

Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, producer Moritz Borman might have been excused if he were nervous about the theatrical debut of Oliver Stone’s $150-million historical epic “Alexander.”

After all, the nearly three-hour-long, R-rated sandal-and-sword saga of the Macedonian who conquered the known world by the age of 32 was being savaged by critics. It also faced stiff competition from such returning films as “National Treasure” and “The Incredibles.” And there was no calculating how mainstream audiences might react to the more overtly sexual aspects of male bonding in Stone’s depiction of Alexander the Great.

But even though “Alexander” opened in sixth place with an estimated five-day take of $21.6 million, Borman, chairman of Intermedia Films, which assembled the worldwide financing for “Alexander,” said investors were drawn to the movie’s global box office potential, not solely by how it would fare in the U.S.

“The market is there for it,” said Borman, who insisted that worldwide audiences would exceed those in the U.S. and who noted that he had sold off its foreign rights long before Warner Bros. stepped up to acquire distribution in North America, Latin America, the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia.

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“If I didn’t get strong reaction and the prices I got from foreign buyers ... I wouldn’t have made it,” Borman said last week. He added that the U.S. always played “second fiddle” in financing and that the movie, in the eyes of investors, had always been “geared to European and worldwide audiences.” Borman noted that the film had received a “very enthusiastic reaction in Germany and France.”

He has a point. Epic adventure films whose foreign grosses have improved on their domestic ones include “King Arthur,” “Troy” and “The Last Samurai.”

Borman noted that Intermedia is shouldering only a fraction of the budget. Part of the film’s financing came from the German investment fund IMF, while other firms acquired distribution rights -- Pathe in France, Constantin Film in Germany and Sochiku, in a partnership with Nippon Herald, in Japan.

Intermedia has a reputation for taking risks, with mixed results. Borman heard naysayers question Intermedia’s judgment when it produced “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” with long-in-the-tooth action star Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising his signature role. It went on to gross $150 million domestically and doubled that overseas. However, another movie that top-lined a graying star, “K-19: The Widowmaker,” with Harrison Ford, was a big disappointment.

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With “Alexander,” Intermedia felt it had a winner. It had a script by Stone, who, while controversial, has a large and loyal fan base. Stone also assembled an all-star cast with Colin Farrell playing the title role, supported by Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins and Val Kilmer.

But it has also had to contend with a large number of negative reviews. Stone’s defenders point out that his career has been marked by wildly divergent reviews of his work, such as “JFK” and “Natural Born Killers.”

Still, “Alexander” took in an estimated $13.4 million from Friday through Sunday, roughly the same amount as Stone’s last feature film, “Any Given Sunday,” which opened in December 1999. “Sunday” went on to gross $75 million domestically and an additional $25 million overseas. Stone’s most successful film remains “Platoon,” which grossed $138.5 million domestically.

Warner Bros., which Dan Fellman, president of distribution, asserted would easily make money on its investment in “Alexander,” also got a break as “The Polar Express” picked up steam over the holiday period. At No. 4 with a three-day tally of $20.1 million, the computer-animated Christmas story posted a 28% increase in business over the prior weekend, bringing its 19-day total to about $82.2 million.

The only new movie to break into the top five was “Christmas With the Kranks,” which grossed an estimated $22.7 million from Friday through Sunday and $32 million since its Wednesday opening. Sony Pictures Entertainment’s head of distribution, Rory Breuer, said the comedy, starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, skewed about 60% female, with 51% of the audience 25 or older.

Among films in limited release, Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education” grossed nearly $49,000 per theater in three New York venues. The film, which opens Dec. 10 in L.A., was down only about $600 from its opening weekend in the same three theaters, Sony Pictures Classics said.

The Thanksgiving holiday is always one of the top five or six moviegoing weekends of the year. It was the fifth-best weekend this year and the biggest non-summer weekend. The total for all films for the Friday-Sunday period was an estimated $166 million, according to box office tracking firm Nielsen EDI.

Rival tracking firm Exhibitor Relations noted that it was the second-best Thanksgiving weekend ever, with the top 12 films grossing nearly $215 million for the five-day period, behind only the $232.2 million the top 12 grossed during the holiday in 2000, led by “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Box Office

Preliminary results (in millions) based on studio projections.

*--* Movie 3-daygross Total National Treasure $33.1 $87.9

The Incredibles 24.1 214.7

Christmas With the Kranks 22.7 32

The Polar Express 20.1 82.2

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SpongeBob SquarePants 19.6 58.6

Alexander 13.4 21.6

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason 6.8 32.5

Finding Neverland 4.7 7.8

Ray 3.9 65

After the Sunset 3.3 24.6

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Source: Nielsen EDI Inc.


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