‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’ still has teeth

Times Staff Writer

Social scientists looking for signs of working-class revolt amid the ever-worsening economic news might consider this week’s box-office numbers.

“Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” a film about a pampered dog who is snatched away from her poolside life and forced to live by her wits in the Mexican desert, was the most watched movie for the second weekend in a row.

“There’s an element in the film of these dogs and their owners being rich and spoiled. Audiences kind of enjoy watching their perceived nemesis being made fun of,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers. “Especially when times are tough.”


Times apparently are not so tough that people are avoiding movie theaters. Even with ticket prices averaging around $7 nationwide and closer to $10 in Southern California, ticket sales were up about 6% over last year for a total of $105 million, based on early estimates.

“Chihuahua,” which debuted in September to an invitation-only group of 300 Chihuahuas and their owners, took in $17.5 million in its second weekend, down 40% from last week but still strong enough for the top spot.

“Going into this weekend, I don’t think anyone would have handicapped us as the picture that would have won the weekend,” said Chuck Viane, the president of distribution for Disney.

Indeed, most of the buzz surrounded “Body of Lies,” a film about espionage during the Iraq war, and “The Express,” a biopic about the first black football player to win the Heisman Trophy.

Both clocked in below expectations. Instead, “Quarantine,” a Sony Screen Gems horror film that cost about $12 million to make, beat most predictions by a long shot to earn an estimated $14.2 million and take second place. “Body of Lies” earned an estimated $13.1 million, making it the third-top-grossing film. “The Express” was in sixth place with $4.7 million.

“Body of Lies” is the latest film grounded in the ongoing military engagements in the Middle East to fall flat with U.S. audiences.


The high-water mark for this trend was set with “Jarhead” in 2005, an expensive film set during the first war against Iraq that grossed about $62 million. Since then, a series of films examining both fictional and true events based on U.S. military actions in the Middle East have failed to make back their production costs.

There were five last year: “In the Valley of Elah,” ($6.7 million); “A Mighty Heart” ($9.2 million); “Rendition” ($9.7 million); “Lions for Lambs” ($15 million); and “The Kingdom” ($47 million).

This year, “Stop Loss” took in about $11 million. All the films sported well-regarded actors and were backed by substantial marketing campaigns. But none made as much in their entire runs as “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” raked in over the last two weeks.

Warner Bros.was well aware of this history and deliberately pitched “Body of Lies” as a straightforward spy movie starring two of Hollywood’s biggest names, Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe.

It played on the fact it was written by one of the scribes behind DiCaprio’s last big hit, “The Departed,” and was directed by Ridley Scott, who created Crowe’s last hit, “American Gangster.” Both those films had much stronger openings, winning their weekends with more than $29 million and $43 million, respectively.

By focusing on the stars and not on the content of the film, the campaign for “Body of Lies” failed to connect, said Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo.


“I’ve seen many commercials for the movie, and it looks like a generic action spy movie,” Gray said. “It’s not clear what the hook is, and so I think that’s why this picture generated very little enthusiasm.”

While “Body of Lies” debuted in 2,710 theaters and averaged about $4,841 per theater, the much more intimate “Rachel Getting Married,” starring Anne Hathaway, took in $17,198 on average in 27 theaters, earning about $880,000 after two weekends in release.

Uncertain times can be very good for the box office.

People remember 1987 as the year the stock market suffered its largest one-day loss on Black Monday, Oct. 19. But the following weekend, with “Fatal Attraction” and “The Princess Bride” in theaters, ticket sales were up nearly 20% from the previous weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there was so much concern that people would stop spending money that President Bush urged people to go out and buy things. Yet the weekend after Sept. 11 saw a 43% jump in ticket sales over the same weekend in 2000, despite a roster of quickly forgotten films such as Keanu Reeves’ baseball tale, “Hardball.” The next year, 2002, set the record for film attendance with nearly 1.6 billion tickets.

“I might be overstating things, but if we ever needed a movie like ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua,’ it’s right now,” Dergarabedian said. “How can you think about the mortgage crisis when you’re sitting in that movie?”





Box office

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) $17.5 52.5 2

2 Quarantine (Sony/Screen Gems) $14.2 14.2 1

3 Body of Lies (Warner Bros.) $13.1 13.1 1

4 Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) $11 70.5 3

5 Nick and Norah’s Infinite $6.5 20.8 2 Playlist (Sony/Columbia)

6 The Express (Universal) $4.7 4.7 1

7 Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros.) $4.6 32.4 3

8 Appaloosa (Warner Bros.) $3.3 10.9 4

9 The Duchess (Paramount Vantage) $3.3 5.6 4

10 City of Ember (Fox) $3.2 3.2 1 *--*

Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2006 (in billions) from 2006 $105 +5.76% $7.4 +0.03% *--*

Note: A movie may be shown on more than one screen at each venue.

Source: Media by Numbers