risky business

Odd numbers up for 'Simpsons,' 'Bourne'

Is 70 the new 50? Even more intriguing, is 50 the new 14? During the past couple of weeks, Hollywood has watched as a couple of movies that most expected to open in the $50 million range shot up to the $70 million mark. First, 20th Century Fox's "The Simpsons Movie" bowed on the weekend of July 27 to a whopping $74 million. The following weekend, Universal Pictures' "The Bourne Ultimatum" raced ahead of even the most optimistic expectations to capture $69.3 million.

The massive openers spoke to several factors. Both titles were proven commodities, even if they did come from opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum. After 18 years on network TV and in syndication, the "Simpsons" clan has developed a deep fan base, many of whom have grown up with the irreverent series. While there was some question entering the movie's opening weekend about whether audiences would show up for characters they could already see for free, the opportunity for "Simpsons" fans to gather in the communal setting of their local mutliplex to laugh together at Homer's familiar catchphrases meant that the movie performed like a sequel to a proven franchise.

"Bourne," of course, already had two installments behind it that have steadily built on the original appeal of the Robert Ludlum novels. And "Ultimatum" didn't play like the third film in a series that is simply spinning its wheels. The film connects all the dots in a way that repays the loyalty of fans. Two-thirds of the plot of "Ultimatum," for example, plays out between the final Moscow chase scene in the second film, "The Bourne Supremacy," and "Supremacy's" final tag scene in New York. And the new movie ends with images that summon up echoes of the opening shots in the original "Bourne Identity."

Additionally, "The Simpsons Movie" and the three "Bournes" benefit from consistent creative oversight. "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening and producer James L. Brooks, who shepherded the Simpsons' transfer to TV series, led the team of experienced "Simpsons" hands who contributed to the movie.

In the case of "Bourne," director Doug Liman, who directed the first film, may have seen Paul Greengrass take up his template to fashion the two that followed, but a team that includes producer Frank Marshall and screenwriter Tony Gilroy, among others, has been involved in all three films, contributing to the unity of vision.

In terms of the audiences they have attracted, however, the two movies took different routes to their mega openings. Sure, both skewed toward male moviegoers; CinemaScore, in its samplings of their opening-weekend audiences, reports that "The Simpsons Movie" drew a crowd that was 63% male, while "Ultimatum's" constituency on opening weekend was 56% male.

But the age of their respective audiences was another matter: Fifty-nine percent of the initial "Simpsons" audience was younger than 25. In the case of "Ultimatum," Cinemascore found that 82% of its audience was over 25. In fact, a rather amazing 33% of the "Ultimatum" audience was 50-plus.

That comes as a surprise only because for years the mantra surrounding summer blockbusters is that Hollywood gears them all for 14-year-old boys. It's further assumed that older audiences take their time before committing to a movie. True, there's no denying that teens often are the first wave to hit theaters on opening day. But "Ultimatum" suggests that it doesn't have to be that way all the time. Sometimes, those slow-moving fiftysomethings move almost as fast as 14-year-old kids.
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