U.K. weekend may be biggest ever

LONDON — Hollywood megapics show little sign of relinquishing their control of the European box office this weekend as Fox launch the hugely anticipated “The Simpsons Movie” day-and-date.

Hyped TV to bigscreen adaptation “Simpsons” hits theaters in four of the five major European territories. The Italian bow is held back until September but Italo, Brit, Teuton and Spanish auds welcome Bart and co. this frame.

Michael Bay’s toy-based actioner “Transformers” opens in the U.K. and France. Reviews have been poor but commercial prospects are very healthy for the CGI spectacular in both new territories.

With both “Transformers” and “Simpsons” arriving at the U.K. box office this weekend, Brit bookers are predicting a truly whammo frame.

“Weather-pending, this weekend had the potential to be the biggest of the year and possibly of all-time,” said one excited London-based booker, adding “sit back and enjoy the ride, it is boom time.”

“Simpsons” has already banked $9 million since it opened Wednesday July 25. Launch kicked off with Tuesday midnight screenings.

Fox has given the “Simpsons” a massive push in Blighty.

For the July 25 U.K. premiere, London’s O2 center, previously the known as the Millennium Dome, was given a Springfields makeover. The promotional stunt garnered lots of media coverage even if the celeb count was low.

Reviews have been roundly positive. “Wit, insight, absurdity, resonance: what more do you want from a summer film?,” asked Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. “Like Homer with his nachos, I could gobble it up until nightfall,” enthused Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian.

“Transformers” has been savaged by the Brit critics, but auds aren’t bothered if the previews figures are anything to go by. The pic has ripped off a boffo $7.7 million on July 21, 22 and 26.

“The CGI-heavy remake of the utterly rubbish and inexplicably popular 1980s TV cartoon series is a petrol-headed wet dream, more monster truck rally than a movie in any satisfying sense of the word,” sniped Wendy Ide in the Times.

U.K. exhibs predict that “Simpsons” will probably beat out “Transformers” to top spot, chiefly due to the shorter running time of the former. Both are expected to cume $50 million plus at the U.K. box office.

And it isn’t just the big openers expected to entice auds this weekend.

Muscular holdovers “Hairspray” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” are both showing good legs and are expected to work well in the smaller screens at the multiplexes. Predicted “Simpsons” and “Transformers” sellouts should see “Hairspray” and “Phoenix” enjoy some overflow biz.

Maggie Gyllenhaal starrer “Sherrybaby” has garnered impressive reviews and should find favor with arthouse auds. Pic has been given a publicity boost as news emerged this week that Gyllenhaal is to replace Brit supermodel Kate Moss as the face (and derriere) of racy, upmarket lingerie label Agent Provocateur.

The upbeat projections for this weekend follow July 26 news from the Film Distributors’ Association that U.K. box office admissions for the first six months of 2007 are up 6.4% on the same period in 2006. Most Hollywood megapics have clicked with Brit auds this summer. And the worst May-June weather on record has helped keep admissions buoyant.

It’s cowabunga versus abracadabra as Bart Simpson tries to kick Harry Potter off the top of the German charts this weekend.

While “Simpsons” has a huge Teuton following, it’s unlikely America’s favorite family wields the box office power to unseat the British boy wizard.

For local indie distribs, the clash of the titans is the perfect opportunity to counterprogram with local fare, foreign arthouse and the re-release of beloved classics.

Constantin Film has high hopes for “Beste Zeit,” the latest Bavarian comedy by Marcus H. Rosenmueller, director of last year’s sleeper hit “Grave Decisions.” The coming-of-age pic, which has received high praise from local critics, examines the life of a provincial teenage girl as she prepares for a year abroad.

Also hitting theaters is Kinowelt’s French drama “Sounds of Sand” from French helmer Marion Hansel, about people from a sub-Saharan village forced by a dire water shortage to traverse the desert in search of a new source.

Meanwhile, the open-air summer cinema season in Germany is providing plenty of opportunity for old favorites.

Following its recent re-release of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 classic “Blow-Up,” Neue Visionen this week bring out Roman Polanski’s “Dance of the Vampires” (“The Fearless Vampire Killers”) on eight copies.

Similarly, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” hits theaters via Croco Film on five copies, primarily screening at open-air cinemas.

Hollywood blockbuster frenzy is in full force in Gaul.

“Simpsons” stormed to the top of new releases with a Wednesday first-day take of $2.9 million on 942 for Fox.

Also coming in strong was “Transformers,” which managed a day one bow of over $2.1 million on 850 for Paramount.

“Simpsons” also won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Gallic critics. “Irresistible,” declared Tele 7 Jours. But “Transformers” has not been universally panned by reviewers. “From a certain perspective, it’s an unwitting satire about America” postulated TeleCineObs, which nevertheless gave it a single star.

Fox’s Bruce Willis actioner “Live Free or Die Hard” has displayed exceptional staying power in France and should again hold its ground this weekend. It dipped only 18% in its third Wednesday-to-Wednesday frame, pushing the running cume to $14 million. And “Shrek the Third” remains a big box office draw. It was down only 8% on the week in its sixth frame for a giant cume of about $42 million for Par.

Spanish exhibs are predicted that “Simpsons” could surpass “Phoenix’s” first weekend take of $6.5 million.

“Simpsons” opens on 675 via Fox, a print spread record for the studio in Spain.

Now entering its third frame, Warners’ “Phoenix” will be around the “Simpsons” in terms of screen count, having upped from 617 to 652 over its second week.

Speaking up the “Simpsons’ ” prospects, local exhibs credit Fox with “a splendid, highly creative campaign” and point to the enduring appeal of the TV show, which averaged 2.4 million viewers and 23.6% in share last season, making it the third most popular U.S. series in Spain, trailing only the “CSI” franchise and “House.”

The pic had received mixed reviews. “The gags are good, but the script is all over the place,” declared El Periodico.

The next biggest Spanish bow is John Stockwell’s “Turistas,” which goes out on 177 via Filmax. Critical omens are not good. “It’s the ultimate cliche in horror filmmaking,” dissed El Pais.

Bahman Ghobadi’s San Sebastian 2006 Golden Shell winner “Half Moon” bows on only four via Golem.

“Phoenix’s” third frame has a wide open playing field in Italy where no new tentpoles are being outed while only a few really marginal titles are lamely attempting to muster any counterprogramming momentum.

“Phoenix” has so far cumed some $20 million at Italo wickets, a satisfactory take for Warner Bros., especially considering there are no other strong contenders on the horizon, which will boost the latest Potter’s staying power.

As mercury rises and Italos increasingly hit beaches, the biggest release this weekend is German chiller spoof “Night of the Living Dorks,” out on 65 via Mediafilm.

Targeting the young male demographic, 01 Distribuzione is releasing L.A.-set down-and-dirty actioner “Crank” on 24, while Fox is looking to lure some younger folks with horse and kid pic “Flicka,” on 20.

Buena Vista is trying to scare up a little biz with “Primeval,” about a TV reporter hunting the world’s largest crocodile, on 15, while Universal is releasing ice-skating comedy “Blades of Glory,” toplining Will Ferrell and Jon Heder, on a mere four.

Only Euro bows are Portuguese auteur Manoel de Oliveria’s “Magic Mirror,” via Mikado, and Mediaplex’s Italo comedy “Sweet Sweet Marja,” starring Maria G
razia Cucinotta in the tale of a bunch of straight-laced people who get very stoned when some cannabis inadvertently ends up in their food.

Additional reporting by Ed Meza (Germany), David Hayhurst (France), Emilio Mayorga (Spain) and Nick Vivarelli (Italy).

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