'Simpsons' clan goes Hollywood with $71.9 mil

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Related story: 'Simpsons' has record-breaking bows o'seas

¬°Ay, caramba! The Simpsons have gone Hollywood. Springfield's most famous nuclear family may never be the same after their first big-screen outing, "The Simpsons Movie," rocked the North American boxoffice this weekend. The traditionally animated movie from 20th Century Fox exceeded even the most optimistic expectations as it grossed an estimated $71.9 million.

The movie easily dwarfed the weekend's other new wide arrivals. The romantic comedy "No Reservations" squeezed into fifth place with an estimated $11.8 million. Barely securing a foothold in the top 10, the suspense thriller "I Know Who Killed Me" was No. 9 with an estimated $3.4 million, while the culture-class comedy "Who's Your Caddy?" was No. 10 with an estimated $2.9 million.

The PG-13 "Simpsons," helmed by David Silverman, a veteran director-producer of the 18-year TV series, proved that with the right material, 2-D animation can be as potent a boxoffice draw as CGI animation, which is currently in vogue. As far as opening weekends for animated films, "Simpsons" -- making its stand in 3,922 theaters where it averaged $18,319 per theater -- was eclipsed only by the $121.6 million bow of "Shrek the Third" this May and the 2004 debut of "Shrek 2" ($108 million). If its estimate holds, "Simpsons" will edge out "The Incredibles," the Pixar movie with the best opening weekend -- that film picked up $70.5 million when it opened in 2004. "Simpsons" also scored the biggest opening for a non-CGI toon, surpassing the previous record-holder "The Lion King," which grossed $40.9 million in its first weekend of wide release in 1994.

On Friday, when the movie drew in about $30 million, it played to a slightly male and under-25 audience. But during the course of the weekend, the family audience also turned out, undeterred by the PG-13 rating, and all four quadrants were about equally represented, according to Fox.

"We caught an amazing amount of the family audience," said Chris Aronson, Fox's senior vp distribution. "And that combination of family play and great reviews drove the movie. Who'd have thunk that at the end of the day, this would be a review-driven film? And the exit polls have all been fantastic."

Warner Bros. Pictures' Harry Potter franchise scored a coup of its own this weekend. Domestically, the latest film in the series, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," stood in third place with a weekend gross of an estimated $17.1 million and a domestic cume to date of an estimated $241.8 million.

But looking at the big, worldwide picture, Warners reported that the five Potter films to date have amassed $4.24 billion worldwide, surpassing the $4.235 billion collected by the "Star Wars" movies. Closing in on the $4.387 billion that have been collected by the 22 James Bond movies, Warners said that by the end of "Phoenix's" run, the Potter series will have become the biggest-grossing franchise in worldwide boxoffice history -- with two more films still to come.

With "Simpsons" energizing the boxoffice here at home, the weekend's top 10 collected an estimated $165.7 million. According to Nielsen EDI, that represented a 52% jump over the top 10 in the comparable weekend last year, when "Miami Vice," debuting to $25.7 million, knocking "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" out of the top spot.

The restaurant-set romance "No Reservations," from Warners, Village Roadshow and Castle Rock, found a table for itself in the weekend's fifth slot as it ordered up an estimated $11.8 million from 2,425 theaters. An Americanized version of Sandra Nettelbeck's 2001 German film "Mostly Martha," the PG remake, directed by Scott Hicks and starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart as two chefs sharing the same kitchen, found favor with female moviegoers, who composed 66% of its audience, and it came in slightly ahead of expectations.

"We're very pleased with its performance because, with its female audience, it should do well during the coming week since that audience will support a film mid-week," said Dan Fellman, Warners president of domestic distribution.

The weekend's other two wide arrivals didn't demonstrate much traction, though.

Lindsay Lohan's arrest last week for suspicion of driving under the influence and possessing cocaine thrust the thriller "I Know Who Killed Me," in which she stars as a kidnapping victim, into the limelight. But it didn't translate into much boxoffice interest, as the R-rated movie, directed by Chris Siverston, suffered the same fate as other recent, hard-R torture tales. Sony Pictures' release of the TriStar title attracted just $3.4 million in 1,320 theaters for a per-theater average of $2,575.

In the 10th spot, the PG-13 "Who's Your Caddy?" from director Don Michael Paul and starring Antwan "Big Boi" Patton as a rap mogul who crashes a stuffy country club, was aimed at the black family audience. It picked up just $2.9 million in 1,019 theaters for a per-theater average of $2,845.

"Caddy," which cost less than $7 million, is the first release from Our Stories Films, a new partnership between BET founder Robert Johnson and the Weinstein Co., and was released by MGM in a deal that saw Our Stories foot the production and P&A bills. "We expect 'Who's Your Caddy?' to hold well in urban theaters because we've had excellent exit surveys and there's no other urban comedy playing in the marketplace," Weinstein Co. co-head Bob Weinstein said.

Among holdovers, Universal Pictures' comedy "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," in its second weekend, fell by just 44%. Ranked second for the weekend, it grossed an estimated $17.1 million, bringing its domestic cume to an estimated $71.6 million.

In its second weekend and ranked fourth, New Line Cinema's "Hairspray" also showed staying power, falling by only 43%. With an estimated weekend gross of $15.6 million, it saw its estimated gross rise to $59.3 million.

Next weekend, New Line will attempt a novel stunt by providing prints with subtitled song lyrics in 100 theaters around the country where audiences will be invited to sing along with the movie.

On the limited front, Paramount Vantage's Classics label introduced the G-rated, environmentally minded animal story "Arctic Tale" in four theaters on Wednesday. The National Geographic production, directed by Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson, grossed an estimated $20,555, bringing its cume to an estimated $26,885. It will expand into the top 10 markets Friday.

Sony Pictures Classics introduced Laurent Tirard's PG-13 costume pic "Moliere" on six screens, where it grossed an estimated $32,906 for a per-screen average of $5,484.

MGM's wartime drama "Rescue Dawn," directed by Werner Herzog, moved up to 500 screens. It ended up in 11th place, grossing an estimated $1.7 million, bringing its estimated cume to nearly $3 million.

Fox Searchlight's sci-fi tale "Sunshine," directed by Danny Boyle, expanded into 460 theaters, grossing an estimated $1.3 million, bringing its estimated cume to $1.6 million.

Grossing an estimated $1.18 million this weekend, the Weinstein Co.'s "Sicko," released through Lionsgate, has hit an estimated cume of $21.5 million, which puts Michael Moore's latest documentary on the verge of surpassing his own 2002 "Bowling for Columbine," which grossed just over $21.5 million, to become the fourth-biggest traditional docu of all time.

"We expect to pass 'Bowling for Columbine' tonight or tomorrow and are confident that 'Sicko' will continue to play well through the summer," Weinstein Co. co-head Harvey Weinstein said.

For the week ending Thursday, total boxoffice amounted to $251.5 million, up 8.4% over the comparable weekend last year. For the year to date, domestic boxoffice stands at $5.75 billion, up more than 5% over last year's $5.46 billion. Admissions are currently running 1% ahead of last year's total.
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