$34.8 mil b.o. kiss for Sandler

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Wedding bells rang out for "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" during the weekend at the North American boxoffice. In a frame that saw the top three films fairly evenly matched, moviegoers also danced to the tune of the musical "Hairspray," while "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" fended off competition from the final Harry Potter novel.

Strong showings at the top of the pack were reflected in an upbeat comparison with the same weekend a year ago, when "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" dominated the boxoffice for the third weekend in a row. This weekend's top 10 amassed $144.7 million, up 5% from last year, according to Nielsen EDI.

Universal Pictures' PG-13 "Chuck & Larry," starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James as two straight firefighters who pose as gay in order to collect domestic-partnership benefits, led the weekend by pulling in $34.8 million in 3,495 theaters for a per-theater average of $9,949. Directed by Dennis Dugan ("Happy Gilmore," "Big Daddy"), it was far from Sandler's biggest opening — that honor belongs to "The Longest Yard," which bowed to a three-day gross of $47.6 million and a four-day number of $58.6 million during Memorial Day weekend in 2005 — but it still marked Sandler's eighth comedy to open at more than $30 million.

Although Sandler is generally considered a guy's guy comedian, the relationship comedy of "Chuck & Larry" actually managed to attract slightly more females (52%) than males. It also spoke to a younger crowd — 54% were under 25. The movie earned a B-plus in CinemaScore polling.

"It played really broadly," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "It's just another indication of how popular Adam Sandler is, and women know that, too. It's going to become another $100 million movie for Adam."

In third place, New Line Cinema's "Hairspray," built around a teen dance show in Baltimore in the early 1960s, tilted heavily female in its opening weekend; 68% of its audience was female, and 63% of attendees were over 25. Director Adam Shankman's adaptation of the 2002 Broadway musical, which in turn was an adaptation of the 1998 John Waters film, hummed along with $27.8 million in 3,121 theaters for a per-theater average of $8,907.

Movie musicals have had a hit-or-miss track record in recent years, but with a cast that ranged from newcomer Nikki Blonksy as the plus-size heroine to such song-and-dance pros as John Travolta and Queen Latifah, "Hairspray" appeared well on its way to re-energizing the genre. The movie, overseen by veteran musical producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who also worked on "Chicago," enjoyed the best wide-release opening ever for a musical, outperforming the $13.7 million opening of 2001's "Moulin Rouge!"

"We figured we wouldn't start getting males in until the second weekend — they'd be going to 'Chuck & Larry' — but we were going to be really strong with females," New Line domestic distribution president David Tuckerman said. "But our exit polling was strong in all four quadrants. While it was difficult to get males in, those who saw it loved it. And when we polled audiences, 63% in the top two boxes said they plan to come back and see it again."

Warner Bros. Pictures' "Phoenix," last weekend's chart-topper, fell 58% to finish second, a drop-off that could have been influenced by the fact that hard-core Harry fans also were consuming J.K. Rowling's final book in the best-selling series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," which went on sale at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. Adding an estimated $32.2 million to its coffers, the movie's domestic purse rose to an estimated $207.5 million.

Thanks to its Wednesday opening, "Phoenix" got a running start over the previous four films in the series, which all opened on a Friday. By the end of its second weekend, "Phoenix" was ahead of the second-weekend totals posted by all of its predecessors, passing the $200 million mark after only 12 days in theaters. Only 2005's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" hit that mark faster, requiring just 10 days.

Imax theaters continued to contribute to the "Phoenix" story, accounting for an estimated $2.7 million of the movie's take during the weekend.

On the limited-release front, Fox Searchlight Pictures launched Danny Boyle's R-rated sci-fi adventure "Sunshine" in 10 theaters, where the tale of an expedition to save the dying sun shone with $235,477 for a healthy per-screen average of more than $23,500. The film will cruise into about 400 theaters Friday.

In its third weekend, DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures' "Transformers" continued to rumble in the multiplex, finishing in fourth place overall. Declining by just 44%, it grabbed an estimated $20.5 million.

Buena Vista Pictures' "Ratatouille," from Pixar Animation Studios, also weathered the surrounding competition. It dipped 38% in its fourth weekend, hanging on to fifth place with an estimated $11 million.

Besides "Chuck & Larry," Universal claimed two other comedies in the top 10. In ninth place, "Evan Almighty" collected an estimated $2.5 million. In the 10th spot, "Knocked Up" knocked out an estimated $2.3 million.

Rounding out the top 10, Warners' "License to Wed," in seventh place, took in an estimated $3.8 million. MGM's release of the Weinstein Co.'s "1408" scored an estimated $2.6 million in eighth place.

Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko," which Lionsgate is distributing for the Weinstein Co., finished in 11th place overall as it attracted an estimated $1.9 million in 1,117 theaters, bringing its tally to an estimated $19.1 million.

Other limited openers included Milos Forman's costume drama "Goya's Ghosts," which IDP and Samuel Goldwyn Films bowed in 49 theaters. It drew an estimated $166,600 for a per-screen average of $3,400.

Sony Pictures Classics scored a coup with its Oscar-winning German-language film "The Lives of Others," from director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. In its 24th weekend of release, the film moved back into 253 theaters. With a weekend take of an estimated $154,000, its domestic cume added up to an estimated $11 million, giving it the title of the biggest-grossing German film in the U.S., outdistancing 1982's "Das Boot," which grossed $10.9 million.

For the week ending Thursday, domestic boxoffice totaled $288 million, up nearly 16% from the $248.9 million collected during the comparable week last year. For the year to date, boxoffice is $5.5 billion, up more than 5% from last year's $5.23 billion. Admissions remain essentially flat.
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