A cast of diminutive dogs took a big bite out of the box office over the weekend as "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" debuted with a top-grossing $29 million.
Disney's pooch picture fared better than expected and toppled "Eagle Eye," a DreamWorks-Paramount thriller, which fell to No. 2 in its second weekend in theaters.
The live-action animal comedy, featuring the voices of Drew Barrymore and George Lopez, was expected to gross $20 million to $25 million. It was the best October debut of any Disney picture.
"We're ecstatic," said Chuck Viane, president of domestic distribution for Disney. "We don't think we could have done any better with a market that had seven movies opening."
It was one of the more crowded weekends for film premieres and led to a surge in moviegoers. The weekend gross for the top 12 movies totaled $95.4 million, up 42% from the same weekend a year ago, according to the box-office tracking firm Media by Numbers.
After a summer slump, moviegoing has surged in the last two weeks, led by the previous weekend's $29.2-million opening of "Eagle Eye" and the latest weekend's debut of "Beverly Hills Chihuahua." Still, revenue for the year is down about 1% compared with last year, with attendance slipping nearly 4%.
"It was a terrific weekend that the industry needed desperately," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers in Encino. "A lot of newcomers performed solidly."
The Sony-Screen Gems movie "Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist," which opened in 2,421 theaters, came in third with $12 million. "It was a great return" for a $13-million film, Dergarabedian said.
"Religulous," a Lionsgate satirical documentary about religious fundamentalism featuring comedian Bill Maher, was released on 502 screens but grossed $3.5 million, with an average of $6,972 per theater. On that basis, it was second only to "Beverly Hills Chihuahua." In overall revenue, it ranked 10th.
"Beverly Hills Chihuahua" opened in 3,215 theaters, with a strong per-theater average of slightly more than $9,000.
"Eagle Eye," showing on 3,516 screens, grossed $17.7 million over the weekend for a total of $54.6 million. It averaged about $5,000 per screen.
The biggest surprise was the limited screening of Sony Picture Classics' "Rachel Getting Married," which opened in nine theaters -- five in Los Angeles -- and took in more than $33,000 per screen.
The movie, directed by Jonathan Demme, is about a former model returning home for her sister's wedding. It "absolutely rocked the box office with a massive per-theater average," Dergarabedian said.
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Preliminary results in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks (studio) (millions) (millions)
1 Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) $29.0 $29.0 1
2 Eagle Eye (DreamWorks/Paramount) 17.7 54.6 2
3 Nick & Norah's Infinite 12.0 12.0 1 Playlist (Sony/Screen Gems)
4 Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros.) 7.4 25.1 2
5 Appaloosa (Warner Bros.) 5.0 5.6 3
6 Lakeview Terrace (Sony/Screen 4.5 32.1 3 Gems)
7 Burn After Reading (Focus) 4.1 51.6 4
8 Fireproof (Samuel Goldwyn) 4.1 12.5 2
9 An American Carol (Vivendi 3.8 3.8 1 Entertainment)
10 Religulous (Lionsgate) 3.5 3.5 1 *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2007 (in billions) from 2007 $115.0 +37% $7.25 -0.08% *--*