Springfield fever hits theaters with record bow

Fox hit a Homer.

“The Simpsons Movie” scored the third-highest opening weekend ever for an animated film, with an estimated $71.8 million domestically from 3,922 playdates, behind only the last two “Shrek” installments.

The PG-13 film — arguably not traditional family fare, considering its more restrictive rating — nabbed the highest opening for a nonsequel animated toon, including Pixar titles.

“Simpsons” far outpaced expectations both domestically and overseas, reflecting good reviews and the abiding popularity of the TV series.

Pic nabbed $96 million from 71 territories for an estimated worldwide cume of $167.8 million. It made more than “Transformers” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” combined in foreign markets.

“Simpsons” further fueled an unusually healthy July box office. Domestic box office for the top 10 pics was up a whopping 52% to $165.7 million, according to Rentrak, vs. $108.8 million in the same frame last year, when “Miami Vice” led the pack. Boost is reflected in the fact that most top holdovers saw declines of less than 45%, indicating moviegoers remain happy with their menu of choices.

Among other wide entrants over the weekend, Warner Bros. and Castle Rock’s romantic dramedy “No Reservations” beat out DreamWorks-Paramount’s “Transformers” for the No. 5 spot in cooking up an estimated $11.7 million from 2,425 locations.

The rest of the spoils, however, largely went to holdovers such as Adam Sandler laffer “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” which came in at No. 2, as opposed to newcomers.

Lindsay Lohan starrer “I Know Who Killed Me,” which TriStar opened on 1,320 screens, made $3.4 million and came in No. 9.

And “Who’s Your Caddy,” from the Weinstein Co. and Dimension Films, debuted at $2.9 million from 1,109 playdates. Pic, the first release from Bob Johnson’s Our Stories Films, took the No. 10 spot.

Among niche pics, Michael Moore’s “Sicko” was on the verge of becoming the fourth highest grossing docu of all time, all but eclipsing the $21.5 million grossed by Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine.” In its sixth frame, “Sicko” made an estimated $1.2 million from 850 playdates for a cume of $21.5 million.

High on Homer

Fox, which says “Simpsons” cost less than $75 million to make, is already being praised by the competish for an aggressive marketing and distribution campaign to translate the long-running animated television series to the bigscreen.

According to Fox, “Simpsons” played well among all demos. On Friday, pic skewed slightly more male and slightly younger. By Saturday, auds were evenly divided in gender and age. Toon also appealed heavily to families despite its PG-13 rating.

Movie made an impressive $30 million on Friday, including coin from midnight shows. Pic was down on Saturday, with hardcore “Simpsons” fans having already seen it.

Numerous TV shows have been made into features, with “Mission: Impossible” one of the most profitable. In many instances, however, the original series has long been off the air by the time the feature hits theaters.

Fox believes the movie benefited from the fact that “Simpsons” remains an ongoing TV series, not to mention that it’s been around for 18 years.

“You have a multi-generational effect. That’s what hit the nerve,” 20th Century Fox senior VP of domestic distribution Chris Aronson said.

Among CGI or traditional animated films, the record-holder for the best opening is “Shrek the Third,” which debuted this summer at $121.6 million. “Shrek 2″ opened at $108 million.

“Simpsons” came in ahead of Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” which had an opening weekend take of $70.5 million and Pixar’s “Finding Nemo,” which debuted at $70.2 million. Generally speaking, family toons don’t necessarily open huge but have strong holding power.

“Simpsons” also diverges from tradition in having a PG-13 rating. Virtually all feature toons, including Pixar titles, are rated PG or G. Exceptions are the feature adaptations of two other television toons, “South Park” and “Beavis and Butt-Head.”

“South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut,” rated R, opened at $14.8 million in 1999 and grossed $52 million domestically. “Beavis and Butt-Head: Do America,” rated PG-13, opened at $20.1 million in 1996 and grossed $63.1 million.

In other box office action, “Chuck and Larry” dropped only 44% in its second frame for a cume of $71.6 million.

Warner Bros. also had news to tout with “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” which came in at No. 3 in its third frame, dropping 48% for a cume of $241.8 million.

As of Sunday, the five “Potter” pics bestowed Warners with the highest-grossing global franchise after the 22 James Bond pics. Combined, the Potter films have generated $4.24 billion in global ticket sales vs. the $4.39 billion earned by the Bond franchise. “Potter” franchise has edged out the six “Star Wars” films, which have grossed $4.235 billion worldwide.

Stateside, New Line’s “Hairspray” dropped 43% in its second frame for a cume of $59.3 million. Musical came in at No. 4. “Transformers” dropped 43% in its fourth frame; cume is $241.8 million.

Disney-Pixar’s toon “Ratatouille” and Fox’s “Live Free or Die Hard” took Nos. 7 and 8, respectively, in their fifth frames. “Ratatouille” dropped 33% for a cume of $179.9 million, while “Live Free” dipped 25% for a cume of $125.1 million.

Smaller stuff

Among niche and genre films, MGM’s “Rescue Dawn” moved up in ranking to No. 11, making an estimated $1.6 million from 500 theaters in its fourth frame for a cume of $2.9 million and a per-screen average of $3,304.

Debuting over the weekend was Sony Pictures Classics’ “Moliere,” which made $32,906 from six theaters for a per-screen average of $5,484. Paramount Vantage docu “Arctic Tale,” which opened Wednesday, made $20,555 for the weekend from four locations in Gotham and Los Angeles for a per-screen average of $5,139. Cume is $26,885.

Expanding to 115 theaters, Focus Features’ Don Cheadle starrer “Talk to Me” grossed $803,400 for a cume of $1.9 million and a per-screen average of $6,986.

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