It's open season on family filmgoers.
Hollywood has released more animated features than ever this year, and the weekend box-office results show why. Despite talk of a glut, animation keeps attracting audiences.
Sony Pictures' "Open Season," the latest in a string of talking-critter tales, topped the weekend box office with ticket sales of $23 million at 3,833 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"There are a lot of laughs in the theater and people are responding to both the characters and the visuals," said Yair Landau, president of Sony's animation division.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 03, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Movie ticket sales: An article in Monday's Business section reporting the weekend box-office results incorrectly described as new the "squash and stretch" technique used in the film "Open Season." The method, which enables the cartoon characters to change shape during action sequences, has been used before.
"We're very hopeful about what this means for the second weekend and beyond."
The movie, which cost about $90 million to produce, represents a major gamble for Sony. It is the first release from the studio's new animation division, Sony Pictures Animation, and its box-office results will test the public's continuing appetite for digital fare.
Fourteen animated movies have been released this year, including this summer's smash "Cars" and a parade of animal adventures such as "Over the Hedge," "Barnyard" and "The Ant Bully," as studios scramble to compete in the lucrative family genre. Nine animated films came out during all of 2005.
Sony executives were encouraged by the early response to "Open Season," which tells the story of hunted animals who fight back against the hunters.
The movie, based on the humor of cartoonist Steve Moore, introduces a technique dubbed "squash and stretch" that allows the cartoon characters to change shape during action sequences.
"Open Season" had the best per-theater average of any movie in the top 10, at $6,001.
The movie marked the 11th No. 1 debut for Sony this year -- an industry record.
Ashton Kutcher, who supplies the voice of a mule deer in "Open Season," fared less well as a Coast Guard recruit in the live-action rescue drama "The Guardian."
Co-starring Kevin Costner, the weekend's No. 2 movie grossed an estimated $17.7 million for Walt Disney Co., opening about as expected. The studio declined to reveal the film's production budget.
Disney distribution chief Chuck Viane said he was confident that the adult-oriented adventure, which scored well in theater exit surveys, would show strong "legs" at the box office in the coming weeks.
Last weekend's No. 1 movie, Paramount Pictures' gross-out prank-fest "Jackass: Number Two," slipped 52%, hauling in $14 million to finish at No. 3.
"School for Scoundrels," a comedy with Billy Bob Thornton in his curmudgeonly "bad Santa" mode, opened at No. 4 with $9.1 million for Weinstein Co. and MGM. The movie cost about $35 million to make.
"We feel this movie had the potential to make a lot of money, so we're disappointed," said Bob Weinstein, co-founder of Weinstein Co. "But with our strong foreign sales, as well as DVD and TV sales, we expect to make a modest profit on this project."
Also in the top 10, "The Illusionist" continues to hold up well for Yari Film Group. The romantic drama starring Edward Norton added $2.8 million to finish at No. 7, bringing its total to $31.5 million after seven weeks.
Though Sony has snapped back from a rough 2005 and is on pace to top its record performance of 2002, when its films grossed nearly $1.6 billion, the studio has had its share of flops.
The political drama "All the King's Men," a remake of the 1949 Oscar winner, fell out of the top 10 in its second weekend.
The picture, starring Sean Penn as a fiery Louisiana governor, fell to No. 11 with an estimated gross of $1.6 million, bringing its 10-day total to $6.3 million.
"All the King's Men," originally slated for a Christmas 2005 release, opened at No. 7 last weekend with a gross of $3.7 million, dashing the studio's hopes for a hit with adult audiences.
Producer Mike Medavoy said various factors contributed to the dismal results, including bad buzz stemming from the delayed release date and a central character with several shades of gray.
"Some people didn't like the movie, some people didn't understand it, and some may want to see it later," Medavoy said.
"Maybe this story isn't over," Medavoy added, noting that several films, including the 1967 classic "Bonnie and Clyde," grew in stature after being initially disparaged.
Overall, ticket sales rose for the first time in four weekends. Year to date, box-office revenue and attendance were up modestly from 2005.
Next weekend could bring a welcome hit for Warner Bros. in director Martin Scorsese's "The Departed."
The remake of the 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller "Infernal Affairs" opens at more than 3,000 theaters. Critics are raving about the picture, whose testosterone-heavy cast includes Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio.
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Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Open Season $23.0 $23.0
The Guardian 17.7 17.7
Jackass: Number Two 14.0 51.5
School for Scoundrels 9.1 9.1
Jet Li's Fearless 4.7 17.8
Gridiron Gang 4.5 33.2
The Illusionist 2.8 31.5
Flyboys 2.3 9.9
The Black Dahlia 2.1 20.7
Little Miss Sunshine 2.0 53.2
*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2005 $100.0 +12.9%
Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2005 $7.07 +6.1%
*--* Source: Exhibitor Relations Co. Los Angeles Times