LOS ANGELES – The sky is still falling in Hollywood, even though Chicken Little and the Marines have landed.
The box office tumbled again despite solid weekends for the animated "Chicken Little," (search) which debuted with $40.1 million, and the Desert Storm drama "Jarhead," (search) which opened with $28.8 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The films paced Hollywood to a healthy weekend, with the top 12 movies grossing $121.2 million. Yet that was down 10 percent from the same weekend in 2004, when "The Incredibles" premiered with $70.5 million. This year's movie attendance is running 8 percent behind last year's.
"Chicken Little" and "Jarhead" each came in as much as $10 million ahead of industry expectations, a sign audiences are getting into the holiday moviegoing spirit. Upcoming releases include "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," (search) "King Kong" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."
"Immediately after Halloween, whatever it is, people's mind-set turns to movies," said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, which released "Chicken Little." "There's such anticipation for `Potter, `Narnia' and `Kong.' There are some monstrously big openings ahead of us."
A strong finish for Hollywood could indicate the slump resulted from a weak crop of movies earlier this year, rather than analysts' speculation that audiences were skipping movies in favor of home-entertainment options.
"I hope you get into the high-profile film season and they say, `I want to see that,'" said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which released "Jarhead," starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jamie Foxx as Marines in the Gulf War. "That would prove they just weren't happy with the product lineup."
"Chicken Little," with Zach Braff providing the voice of the fairy-tale fowl that proclaimed the sky was falling, is Disney's first fully computer-animated movie. It was Disney's second-best animated opening ever, behind "The Lion King" with $40.9 million.
The debut includes $2.1 million from 84 theaters showing a 3-D version of "Chicken Little."
Disney's deal to distribute Pixar's computer-animated films ("The Incredibles," "Finding Nemo") expires with next summer's "Cars." Though negotiations on a new deal continue, the strong opening for "Chicken Little" is a good start for Disney in computer animation if the studio permanently parts ways with Pixar.
Still, "Chicken Little" received so-so reviews, with some critics saying its an undernourished story compared to hits made by Pixar or rival DreamWorks (the "Shrek" films, "Madagascar").
Along with Pixar's string of hits, DreamWorks cartoons have opened to bigger numbers, including this year's "Madagascar," which grossed $61 million in its first weekend and went on to a $193.1 million domestic total.
But the debut of "Chicken Little" was in line with openings for 20th Century Fox's "Robots" ($36 million) last spring and DreamWorks' "Shark Tale" ($47.6 million) a year ago.
"This is right on the money in terms of animated openings," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "This debut on `Chicken Little' says they can do it, and they can bring in an audience."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Chicken Little," $40.1 million.
2. "Jarhead," $28.8 million.
3. "Saw II," $17.2 million.
4. "The Legend of Zorro," $10 million.
5. "Prime," $5.3 million.
6. "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story," $4.8 million.
7. "Good Night, and Good Luck," $3.1 million.
8. "The Weather Man," $2.9 million.
9. "Shopgirl," $2.5 million.
10. "Flightplan," $2.3 million.