‘Simpsons’ make bigscreen bow

TV family takes on box office

Homer is here.

Many years in the making, 20th Century Fox’s “The Simpsons Movie” opens day-and-date today in markets around the globe, hoping to mine the fanbase of the animated television skein, as well as lure newcomers to the irreverent family franchise.

“Simpsons,” playing in 3,922 locations domestically and starring the regular TV cast, has a clear shot at the weekend crown over holdovers “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” Overseas, “Simpsons” debuts in as many as 7,500 playdates in 71 markets.

Stateside, the other wide openers include Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures’ romantic dramedy “No Reservations,” starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart and Abigail Breslin. Going for the female crowd, Warners will bow the pic in 2,425 locations.

The Weinstein Co. and MGM open urban comedy “Who’s Your Caddy?” at 1,019. Pic marks the inaugural release of Bob Johnson’s Our Stories Films, which has a distrib pact with TWC’s Dimension Films.

Days after Lindsay Lohan’s latest brush with the law, TriStar opens Lohan starrer “I Know Who Killed Me” in 1,320 playdates. Pic was already low on the radar, but it’s unclear how Lohan’s real-life drama will impact box office.

Bringing “Simpsons” to the bigscreen has been an odyssey worthy of Homer, Bart and the rest of the beloved Simpson family.

Original TV show producers, including James L. Brooks, Matt Groening and Richard Sakai, wanted to make a movie early on in the run of the skein, which premiered 18 years ago, but finding the time to develop a film was difficult amid the show’s hectic shooting sked.

After several false starts, the voice cast of the TV show inked deals with Fox for the bigscreen adaptation in 2001. The script, based on an original idea by Groening, went through dozens of rewrites by 11 of the show’s most prolific scribes. Film, directed by David Silverman, was produced by Brooks, Groening, Sakai, Al Jean and Mike Scully.

Pic’s budget was under $75 million.

Television shows have been translated onto the bigscreen with varying degrees of success, although “The Simpsons” has unique attributes in remaining attractive to a younger demo, as well as to older adults who grew up on the TV show.

In addition to the regular cast — Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Pamela Hayden and Tress MacNeille — Albert Brooks, Tom Hanks and rock group Green Day lend their voices to the pic.

Fox has waged an aggressive marketing campaign replete with high-profile promotional partnerships. Studio also kept anticipation high by holding screenings of the pic only at the 11th hour.

On the specialty front, Paramount Vantage opens docu “Arctic Tale” in four theaters, while Sony Classics opens “Moliere” in six locations in Gotham and New York. MGM expands “Rescue Dawn” to 500 theaters; Fox Searchlight expands “Sunshine” to 460 locations.

Fox will open “The Simpsons Movie” in up to 7,500 locations internationally following a worldwide promo campaign taking advantage of the widespread recognition of the TV series. In most foreign markets, the studio has opted to go with the TV series’ local voice talent in dubbed versions of the pic.

Rival execs believe Bart and Homer should be significant draws in English-speaking markets.

Among key territories, pic opens day-and-date in the U.K., France, Germany, Australia and Spain. It will open next weekend in Mexico, followed by South Korea, Holland and Taiwan later in August. Italy and Brazil will go in September, while no date has been set for Japan.

Overall, the foreign box office should be a match-up between “Simpsons,” “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Transformers.”

Warner’s third frame of “Order of the Phoenix” will be a formidable foe after topping $100 million in its soph sesh. “Transformers” should remain a potent player, too, moving into a pair of key markets, France and the U.K.

First-day grosses in France for “Transformers” came in with a socko $2.1 million on Wednesday, portending a weekend in the range of $10 million.

Disney’s beginning a significant widening of “Ratatouille” with openings in its first major markets in Japan and South Korea. Toon’s already hit $40 million in a dozen smaller markets.

The overseas marketplace also will begin to see expansions of Universal’s array of summer comedies. “Evan Almighty” goes into Denmark and South Korea; “Knocked Up” opens in Russia and Singapore; and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” launches in Greece, Holland and Taiwan.

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