Tales From The Box Office: 15 Years Ago, The Simpsons Movie Embiggened A Cromulent Franchise

"The Simpsons" has been going strong for just about as long as I've been alive, with Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge, and the rest of the citizens of Springfield initially making their way to the air in December 1989. While the show has not felt nearly as relevant as it once was in the pop culture landscape for quite some time, the fact remains that its 34th season is set to air later this year and, well over 700 episodes in and counting, there is no end in sight.

But it was 15 years ago in the summer of 2007 when "The Simpsons Movie" hit theaters that the beloved yellow cartoon characters felt truly, hugely relevant in a way they hadn't in years before the film arrived — and truly haven't felt since. The movie was a bigger hit than anyone could have imagined, so much so that talk of a sequel persists to this day. It is arguably the most successful movie ever produced based on a TV show.

In honor of the film's 14th anniversary, we're looking back at "The Simpsons Movie," its long journey to the screen, the many failed versions that didn't go the distance, and the lessons we can learn from its success all these years later. Let's dig in, shall we?

The movie: The Simpsons Movie

There is unquestionably room for debate amongst fans of the show but, for the most part, many would agree that the show's golden age ended somewhere around the tenth season, well over two decades ago. Yet "The Simpsons" continues to deliver ratings for Fox and so, creator Matt Groening's show lives on. 

But talk of a movie sprang up years before it actually got made and, for Groening, it was originally viewed as something that might be a good way to end the show. Speaking in 2007, Groening joked that "We tried to save this until the end of the series, but that intention was undone by good ratings." And so, the movie pressed on with the knowledge that the show would continue after the fact, for better or for worse.

By the time 2007 rolled around, "The Simpsons" was still getting viewership but was no longer at the forefront of the conversation as it once had been. But this was a truly robust time for the box office and the movie was enough to grab the attention of many fans who had long since checked out from the show. This was big, flashy, new, and special. Sure, plenty of shows had been turned into successful movies before, such as "Mission: Impossible" and "Star Trek" — but an animated sitcom? That was something else entirely, and was a reminder that Homer and the gang were more than just touchstones of Fox's Sunday programming.

Movies that almost were

Perhaps unsurprisingly, attempts to turn "The Simpsons" into a feature-length entity date back a long way, with producer James L. Brooks wanting to turn the season 4 episode "Kamp Krusty" into a movie at one point. That was scrapped, however, given that the writers even had to stretch some jokes to fill the episode, as was revealed on the episode's DVD commentary track. There were also ideas for a possible anthology, like the "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween episodes, and even a live-action Troy McClure film, prior to Phil Hartman's death. These and other ideas failed to actually make it to the screen before the idea that clicked into place was put forth — and it all hinged on pig poop.

An EW feature about the film revealed that it all came together when Groening mentioned an article he'd read about a community dealing with pig-waste pollution, and that was ultimately where the writers pulled the plot from. The movie as we know it sees Homer adopt a pig before having to dump a silo of its poop into Lake Springfield, which leads to an environmental catastrophe. This turns Homer into an enemy of the citizens of Springfield, leaving the Simpson family to go on the run.

David Silverman, a longtime producer on the show, had been tapped to direct, with a brain trust of the show's biggest writers and producers all tag-teaming the script. The core voice cast had been contracted to do the film for some time, so that had already been figured out. The movie also provided a great opportunity for big guest stars, including Tom Hanks and the band Green Day, amongst others. Everything fell into place just so, paving the way for "The Simpsons" to once again become incredibly relevant ... perhaps for the last time.

The financial journey

"The Simpsons Movie" hit theaters on July 27, 2007, right in the heart of the summer moviegoing season (and a packed one at that). Fortunately, strong reviews and a clear desire on the public's part to love "The Simpsons" again paved the way for good fortune. The film debuted at number one on its opening weekend with $74 million, nearly matching its reported $75 million production budget. Other films in the top ten that weekend included "Transformers," "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry." While the animated flick would surrender the crown to "The Bourne Ultimatum" the following week, suffering a big 66% drop-off for a $25.1 million second frame, it hardly mattered.

Competition from the likes of "Rush Hour 3" and "Superbad" in the weeks that followed couldn't prevent the cinematic version of the long running TV show from doing its thing both domestically and abroad. "The Simpsons Movie" finished its run with $183.1 million in North America but, most impressively, it earned $353.2 million overseas for a grand total of $536.4 million. Or, to put it another way, more than seven times its reported budget.

It finished as the eighth highest-grossing movie of 2007, just behind "I Am Legend" ($585 million) and ahead of "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" ($459 million). In terms of TV-to-movie adaptations, only several of the "Mission: Impossible" films have performed better. None of the "Star Trek" movies have ever crossed $500 million and, though the "Transformers" movies have done incredibly well, those were toys first, so they technically don't count among the TV-show-to-movie category.

The lessons contained within

One of the first things that stands out about this movie's success is the fact that Groening and the producers waited years for the right idea to come along. They didn't pounce right away simply because the opportunity was in front of them. Could a "Kamp Krusty" movie have worked? Maybe. But, given the results, it's safe to say that patience paid off handsomely and everyone was rewarded for it. Not just Fox's bottom line, but viewers as well since this was, for many, one of the last times "The Simpsons" actually meant something in a meaningful way. I can only speak for myself, but this is my favorite show of all time and, for at least a dozen years, it's only worth watching an episode here or there. But make no mistake, I was there on opening weekend, eager to see this movie.

Beyond that, on a more personal note, "The Simpsons" means a lot to me and part of what frustrates me so much about the last decade and change is that the specialness has evaporated. I would give a lot for this franchise to feel special again and, all due respect, but shorts on Disney+ that shamelessly tie into other Disney franchises just aren't cutting it. Maybe a sequel would be the way to make this all feel special again. What's more, maybe allowing "The Simpsons" to end, be it with another movie or a final season, would do the trick as well. 

The point is, looking back at this movie, it was a nice feeling and something I think fans deserve to feel at least once more before Groening and Fox pack it in for good — or, before their hand is forced in some way and "The Simpsons" does not get to go out on its own terms. That would be a real shame, and this show deserves better. We deserve better.