Weekend Box Office (October 3 - 5, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND A jam-packed slate of eight new films opening or expanding nationwide flooded the multiplexes but it was a pampered little dog that ticket buyers wanted turning Disney's family comedy Beverly Hills Chihuahua into the box office king. Younger-skewing movies ruled the charts while an assortment of niche pics targeting specific audiences found some success elsewhere in the top ten. Three new films opening in over 1,000 theaters each failed to even make the top ten proving that the marketplace can only handle so much content. But the variety of product did lead ticket sales well ahead of year-ago levels starting October on a positive note.

Moviegoers just couldn't resist talking animals and the Disney brand name as Beverly Hills Chihuahua delivered a powerful number one opening with an estimated $29M over the Friday-to-Sunday period. Averaging a stellar $9,020 from 3,215 locations, the PG-rated tale of a rich dog lost in Mexico connected with kids and parents and posted the best opening for a kidpic since June's WALL•E launched to $63.1M. It was the second best family film opening ever in the September-October corridor trailing only Will Smith's Shark Tale which debuted to $47.6M in October 2004. Also helping the Mouse House this weekend was the lack of good family movies over the past couple of months. The road ahead looks rosy as few options for children stand in the way of Chihuahua over the next month. Between now and the November 7 launch of the DreamWorks sequel Madagascar Escape 2 Africa there is High School Musical 3, but that belongs to the Disney empire.

Shia LaBeouf might be on his way to scoring another career $100M+ blockbuster as his latest actioner Eagle Eye enjoyed a good hold in its second frame. Last weekend's top film dropped 39% to an estimated $17.7M and lifted the film's ten-day cume to a solid $54.6M. Paramount and its soon-to-be-ex-wife DreamWorks should find their way to $95-100M.

Despite Eagle Eye's presence, Sony was still able to connect with teens and young adults with its comedy Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist which debuted in third place with an estimated $12M. Playing in 2,421 playdates, the PG-13 romantic comedy averaged a healthy $4,957. According to studio research, 55% of the audience was under 21 while 62% was female. With Chihuahua skewing very young and most other new releases aiming for adults over 30, Playlist was able to reach a crowd that had few viable options this weekend. The modest $13M budget should allow it to become a moneymaker too.

Richard Gere and Diane Lane suffered the worst drop in the top ten with their romance Nights in Rodanthe which fell 45% to an estimated $7.4M. With $25.1M in the bank, the Warner Bros. release should reach about $40M. By comparison, the actors charmed $52.8M from movie fans in 2002 with Unfaithful which amounts to about $65M at today's ticket prices.

The Ed Harris-directed Western Appaloosa expanded nationally after a two-week limited run and enjoyed a respectable take of an estimated $5M from 1,045 theaters. Averaging $4,794 per location, the Warner Bros. title showed that there is still an audience for this classic genre of films. Cume is $5.6M. Samuel L. Jackson's thriller Lakeview Terrace slipped only 35% to an estimated $4.5M in its third frame boosting the 17-day total to $32.1M for Sony.

Focus followed with Burn After Reading which grossed an estimated $4.08M, off just 34%, for a $51.6M cume. The Christian-themed hit Fireproof was close behind with an estimated $4.07M dropping a reasonable 41% in the second weekend. Budgeted at a mere $500,000, the Samuel Goldwyn release has captured a solid $12.5M in ten days and could go on to finish with an impressive $20-25M.

Vivendi Entertainment opened its first wide release with the David Zucker-directed comedy An American Carol which grossed an estimated $3.8M for a ninth place finish. Playing in 1,639 locations in the United States, the PG-13 film about a Michael Moore-type filmmaker who is visited by three ghosts who show him the true meaning of America averaged only $2,325 per site. Kevin Farley, Kelsey Grammer, and Leslie Nielsen star and reviews were not very positive. Carol opens in Canada this Friday.

Rounding out the top ten and scoring the second best average on that list was the Bill Maher doc Religulous which collected an estimated $3.5M from only 502 theaters for a potent $6,972 average. Directed by Larry Charles (Borat), the R-rated film that explores the merits of organized religion earned generally upbeat reviews for Lionsgate. The last film to open in the top ten in fewer theaters was the Spanish-language immigration drama Under the Same Moon with $2.8M from 266 sites in March.

A slew of new releases also debuted outside the top ten with most generating disappointing results. The one film which audiences did actually connect with was the Anne Hathaway drama Rachel Getting Married which scored a sensational $33,667 average from nine theaters after grossing an estimated $303,000 this weekend in its platform bow. The Sony Classics release about a surly young woman who goes back home for her sister's wedding has been praised by critics and has earned Hathaway plenty of kudos buzz making her, at the moment, one of the frontrunners on Oscar night. Directed by Jonathan Demme, the R-rated pic expands into more markets in the coming weeks.

Universal stumbled with its Greg Kinnear drama Flash of Genius which opened in 1,098 locations collecting just $2.3M, according to estimates. With a weak $2,120 average, the tale of an inventor screwed by the auto giants just didn't make moviegoers want to spend top dollar. Reviews were mixed.

Miramax's new arthouse thriller Blindness was panned by critics and flopped in its nationwide opening. The Julianne Moore pic took in an estimated $2M from 1,690 sites for an embarrassing $1,185 average. The figures only represent the U.S. and not Canada. The Simon Pegg comedy How to Lose Friends and Alienate People attracted few people debuting to an estimated $1.4M. Averaging only $801 from 1,750 theaters, the MGM release saw weak reviews from critics.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $91M which was up a robust 44% from last year when The Game Plan remained in the top spot in its second frame with $16.6M; but off 7% from 2006 when The Departed debuted at number one with $26.9M.

Compared to projections, Beverly Hills Chihuahua opened a few notches above my $26M prediction while Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist was very close to my $13M forecast. Appaloosa debuted better than my $3M projection while An American Carol and Religulous both slightly exceeded my respective predictions of $3M and $2M. Flash of Genius was close to my $3M forecast, but Blindness and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People both bowed below my projections of $6M and $5M, respectively.

For a review of Ghost Town visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Monday night for final figures and again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Body of Lies, The Express, City of Ember, and Quarantine all shove their way into overcrowded megaplexes.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Oct 3 - 5 Sep 26 - 28 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Beverly Hills Chihuahua $ 29,300,465 3,215 1 $ 9,114 $ 29,300,465 Buena Vista
2 Eagle Eye 17,709,817 29,150,721 -39.2 3,516 2 5,037 54,614,521 Paramount
3 Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist 11,311,751 2,421 1 4,672 11,311,751 Sony
4 Nights in Rodanthe 7,368,259 13,418,454 -45.1 2,702 2 2,727 25,088,183 Warner Bros.
5 Appaloosa 5,050,310 146,568 1,045 3 4,833 5,605,167 Warner Bros.
6 Lakeview Terrace 4,561,227 6,966,711 -34.5 2,574 3 1,772 32,201,255 Sony
7 Burn After Reading 4,120,129 6,196,269 -33.5 2,397 4 1,719 51,678,103 Focus
8 Fireproof 3,987,509 6,836,036 -41.7 852 2 4,680 12,410,216 Samuel Goldwyn
9 An American Carol 3,656,000 1,639 1 2,231 3,656,000 Vivendi
10 Religulous 3,409,643 502 1 6,792 3,428,633 Lionsgate
11 Flash of Genius 2,251,075 1,098 1 2,050 2,251,075 Universal
12 Blindness (excluding Canada) 1,950,260 1,690 1 1,154 1,950,260 Miramax
13 Igor 1,739,078 5,383,912 -67.7 2,332 3 746 17,073,170 MGM
14 Miracle at St. Anna 1,736,302 3,477,996 -50.1 1,185 2 1,465 6,329,692 Buena Vista
15 Righteous Kill 1,609,959 3,709,480 -56.6 1,789 4 900 37,696,040 Overture
16 The Family That Preys 1,589,086 3,125,620 -49.2 933 4 1,703 35,190,864 Lionsgate
17 My Best Friend's Girl 1,563,164 3,882,912 -59.7 1,702 3 918 17,610,847 Lionsgate
18 Ghost Town 1,469,919 2,930,904 -49.8 1,456 3 1,010 11,526,769 Paramount
19 How to Lose Friends and Alienate People 1,430,294 1,750 1 817 1,430,294 MGM
20 The Duchess 893,990 563,075 58.8 127 3 7,039 1,888,718 Par. Vantage
Top 5 $ 70,740,602 $ 62,568,191 13.1
Top 10 90,475,110 82,148,111 10.1
Top 20 106,708,237 95,467,591 11.8
Top 20 vs. 2007 106,708,237 76,441,254 39.6

Last Updated: October 5, 2008 at 6:00PM ET