Wedded bliss for Universal as Sandler pic bows big

Comedy takes in $34.2 mil; 'Hairspray' holds up

Adam Sandler proved once again that when it comes to mainstream comedies, he is one of North America's most reliable boxoffice draws. Case in point: the new Universal Pictures comedy "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," which captured the top spot this past weekend with $34.2 million from 3,495 theaters.

The opening may have been on the low end of the scale for a Sandler comedy. From 1998, when "The Water Boy" bowed to $39.4 million, to 2005's "The Longest Yard," which earned a three-day gross of $47.6 million over that year's Memorial Day weekend, Sandler's big-screen goofs have regularly checked in around the $40 million mark, give or take a few million. But his newest — a PG-13 comedy directed by Dennis Dugan in which Sandler and Kevin James play two straight firemen who pose as a gay couple in order to collect domestic partnership benefits — proved strong enough to force the second weekend of Warner Bros. Pictures' "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" into second place.

The film's subject matter, which may have put off some guys, resulted in an audience that was ever-so-slightly more female (51%) than male, according to a CinemaScore sampling. Moviegoers, 58% of whom were 25 or older, rated the movie a B+.

By contrast, New Line Cinema's musical "Hairspray," the weekend's other new wide release, drew a heavily female crowd — 72% were women of various ages, according to CinemaScore. The PG-13 dance fest, directed by Adam Shankman, is based on the 2002 Broadway musical, which in turn was based on the 1998 John Waters comedy about attempts to integrate an early-'60s local dance show, a la "American Bandstand." While recent musicals have veered from hits ("Dreamgirls") to misses ("The Producers"), "Hairspray" assembled an eclectic cast — ranging from newcomer Nikki Blonsky to showbiz vets John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and Queen Latifah — which resulted in a toe-tapping debut at No. 3, collecting $27.5 million in 3,121 theaters. Moviegoers also awarded it a sterling A rating, according to CinemaScore.

Meanwhile, "Phoenix" dropped 58% in its second weekend. Adding $32.5 million to its purse, the fifth film in the franchise has now grossed $207.9 million domestically.

Two resilient holdovers contributed to a busy domestic boxoffice. In its third weekend, DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures' "Transformers" declined by 45% but earned the fourth slot, taking in an additional $20.5 million, which brought its domestic cume to nearly $263 million.

In fifth place, Buena Vista's release of Pixar Animation Studios' "Ratatouille" picked up nearly $11 million as it dropped by just 39%. Its domestic cume stands at $165.5 million.

All the resulting activity contributed to a total weekend gross that exceeded that of the comparable frame last year when Buena Vista's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" dominated the charts for its third weekend in a row. This weekend, the 108 films tracked by The Hollywood Reporter grossed a collective $155.2 million, up nearly 3% from the $150.7 million grossed during the comparable weekend last year.

On the limited-release front, Fox Searchlight launched Danny Boyle's R-rated sci-fi tale "Sunshine" in 10 theaters. The space adventure about a quest to save the dying sun attracted $242,964 for a sunny per-screen average of $24,296.

Sony Pictures Classics also saw its release of the Oscar-winning foreign-language picture "The Lives of Others," directed by Germany's Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, enter the record books. In its 24th weekend of release, the film moved back into 253 theaters and grossed $153,721, which brought its domestic cume to just over $11 million, becoming the top German film in U.S. boxoffice history by supplanting 1982's "Das Boot," which grossed $10.9 million.