July 29, 2007 / 6:24 AM / in 11 years

"Simpsons" the first family at theaters

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Time to break out the donuts and the Duff Beer.

A scene from "The Simpsons Movie" in an image courtesy of 20th Century Fox. The film sold $71.85 million worth of tickets during its first weekend, according to estimates issued by distributor 20th Century Fox. REUTERS/Handout

Television’s hapless underachievers, the Simpsons, were the top draw at movie theaters around the world in their big-screen debut, surpassing even the most optimistic forecasts.

“The Simpsons Movie” sold almost $168 million worth of tickets during its first weekend of release, distributor 20th Century Fox said on Sunday.

The North American component was $71.85 million, the fifth-highest opening of the year. Fox had expected the animated comedy to open in the $40 million range, said Chris Aronson, senior vice president of distribution at the News Corp.-owned studio.

The film cost about $75 million to make, ensuring that it will be a very profitable contributor to the multibillion dollar “Simpsons” franchise. The TV show begins its 19th season in the fall.

The international tally was $96 million from 71 territories, with No. 1 openings in most of them, Fox said. Highlights included Britain ($27.8 million) and Germany ($14.2 million) — the third-biggest opening for an animated film in both markets. In Finland, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay, the film set all-time opening records, it said.

Unlike the recent “Spider-Man” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, which opened simultaneously in more than 100 foreign markets each, “The Simpsons” is rolling out over the next few weeks. One key exception is Japan, which will have to wait until March 2008. The country “is not an entrenched market” for “The Simpsons,” said Fox International co-president Paul Hanneman.

“CHUCK” SECOND

Back in North America, last weekend’s champion, the Adam Sandler gay-themed comedy “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” slipped to No. 2 with $19.1 million. The film has earned $71.6 million after 10 days. It was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal Inc.

“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” fell one to No. 3 with $17.1 million in its third week. The wizard tale has earned $241.8 million. It was released by Warner Bros. Pictures, a unit of Time Warner Inc.

“Hairspray,” a musical released by Time Warner’s New Line Cinema, was No. 4, also down one, with $15.6 million. The film has earned $59.3 million after 10 days.

Three other films entered the top 10, somewhat overshadowed by “The Simpsons Movie.” Best of the bunch was “No Reservations,” a romantic comedy starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart. The Warner Bros. release opened at No. 5 with a modest $11.8 million.

At least it did better than the latest bomb from troubled actress Lindsay Lohan. Her Sony Corp. thriller “I Know Who Killed Me” opened at No. 9 with $3.4 million. Lohan was arrested in Los Angeles early on Tuesday for suspected drunk driving and cocaine possession after a high-speed car chase.

Rounding out the top 10 was the urban comedy “Who’s Your Caddy?” The film, starring OutKast hip-hop artist Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, earned just $2.9 million. It was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer through a distribution deal with the Weinstein Co. Both firms are privately held.

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