'Chihuahua' bites 'Body' at boxoffice

Talking dog film earned $17.5 million during weekend

ORLANDO -- Ay, "Chihuahua!"

Disney's "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" was top dog in the domestic boxoffice for a second straight weekend, making a mutt out of the pre-frame favorite for No. 1 -- Warner Bros.' star-studded Middle East thriller "Body of Lies."

"Chihuahua" fetched an estimated $17.5 million this session, as a miniature weekend-over-weekend drop of just 40% groomed a 10-day cumulative boxoffice of $52.5 million. "Lies" truly underperformed expectations with a shocking $13.1 million bow good only for a third-place showing.

Sony Screen Gem's horror thriller "Quarantine" scared up a healthy $14.2 million to open in second place, while Universal's pigskin pic "The Express" registered a disappointing $4.7 million in a sixth-place debut. And the Fox-distributed family fantasy "City of Ember" crashed and burned over its first frame with only $3.2 million in 10th place.

Warners execs blamed the prevailing dour mood of the country for moviegoers' rejecting the dark subject matter of "Lies," a Ridley Scott-helmed CIA pic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. But if the week's economic horrors had consumers in a funk, it didn't keep them from heading to multiplexes completely.

In fact, the weekend's $104 million in industry grosses represented a 4% uptick from the same frame a year earlier, according to Nielsen EDI. Distributors penciled in reasonably aggressive estimates for Sunday grosses in advance of Monday's Columbus Day holiday for many schoolkids and some workers.

Seasonal boxoffice is tracking 8% ahead of last fall, at $733.2 million and counting. And year to date, 2008 is pacing roughly evening with the same portion of last year, at $7.54 billion vs. $7.57 billion.

In a specialty bow this weekend, Warners unspooled Guy Ritchie's latest gangster film "RockNRolla" in seven theaters to gross $141,000, or an auspicious $20,156 per venue.

Miramax bowed Mike Leigh's well-reviewed British dramedy "Happy-Go-Lucky" in four locations and grossed $80,000, or a promising $20,000 per site.

Sony Pictures Classics' Mandarin-language adventure pic "Ashes of Time Redux" debuted in five theaters and rung up $22,050, or an acceptable $4,410 per venue
Rocky Mountain's Bill Graham biopic "Billy: The Early Years" grossed $199,338 from 282 playdates, or a limp $714 per engagement.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Paramount Vantage's Keira Knightley starrer "The Duchess" broke the top 10 with an expansion into wide release, as the costume drama added 1,080 theaters for a total 1,207 and grossed $3.3 million in ninth place. That amounted to a so-so $2,750 per venue but boosted the pic's cume to $5.6 million following three sessions in limited release.

SPC's drama "Rachel Getting Married" added 17 locations for a total 27 and grossed $464,336. That represented an impressive $17,197 per site and pushed cume to $882,454.
Rated R, "Lies" was produced for an estimated $65 million to $70 million. It attracted audiences comprised 55% of males, with 65% of its support from moviegoers over age 30.

"I think we ran into a buzz-saw and am certainly disappointed," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "It was a economically disastrous week for our country, and that steered people toward more escapism."

Audiences for R-rated "Quarantine" -- which cost just $12 million to produce -- skewed 52% male, with 41% of patrons under age 21.

"It was a concept that really drew people in -- no pun intended," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

The pic's premise involves the quarantine of residents of an apartment building. "Quarantine" stars Jennifer Carpenter, perhaps best known for the title role in 2005's "The Exorcism of Emily Rose."

Produced for under $40 million, "Express" -- the true-life story of college football's first black Heisman Trophy winner, Ernie Davis -- received more than 40% of its support from African-American moviegoers. Its audiences also skewed a bit male and much older --- with 60% of patrons over age 30.

The failure of "Express" to open well -- and earlier poor runs by period sports pics such as April's George Clooney starrer "Leatherheads" -- may spread skepticism over the market for such films.

"It certainly screened well," Uni distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "The results don't paint a clear picture of why we missed."

Starring Bill Murray and Tim Robbins, "Ember" was wholly produced by Walden Media for about $38 million. Its audiences skewed 52% male and were comprised 55% by patrons under age 25 and 55% by family moviegoers.

"Walden went after a narrow demographic of 10- to 12-year-olds," Fox senior vp Chris Aronson noted. "But it wasn't an expensive movie."

Meantime, exhibitors gathering here Monday for the annual ShowEast convention will have another busy weekend reprogramming their multiplexes when they return home on Friday, with four more wide openers set to hit the crowded marketplace next weekend. Those include Fox’s Mark Wahlberg starrer “Max Payne,” Oliver Stone’s George Bush biopic “W” from Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment’s R-rated comedy “Sex Drive” and Fox Searchlight’s fantasy drama “The Secret Life of Bees,” starring Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning.
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