'Chicken' hot with $40 mil

Walt Disney watched its first inhouse CGI toon “Chicken Little” open stronger than expected, clucking up $40.1 million from 3,654 theaters.

Universal’s Gulf War drama “Jarhead” also opened strong, pulling in $28.8 million bow from 2,411 barracks.

The Mouse House toasted “Chicken” as the second biggest opening for any of the toons it has produced, just trailing the $40.9 million nabbed by “The Lion King” in 1994.

Meanwhile, the “Jarhead” bow was also well ahead of industry expectations. Studio compared the perf to that of 2002′s “Black Hawk Down,” which took in $28.6 million in its first week of wide release.

Disney distrib chief Chuck Viane noted that non-parent adult interest in “Chicken Little” appeared to be strong through the frame.

“Friday night tipped us off to it,” he said. “The normal Disney audience thins out after 7 p.m., but this kept playing all night.”

And many were keeping an eye on whether a Mouse House CGI toon could be as potent as the Pixar titles it has released in years past. On this weekend last year, Disney opened Pixar’s “The Incredibles” to $70.3 million.

As for “Jarhed,” despite the military theme and nearly all-male cast, the Sam Mendes-helmed war pic drew a pretty balanced aud, with the aud 57% male and nearly even by age, with 52% over age 25, according to studio polls.

With the war pic carrying a $72 million pricetag, U needed a quick start, and distrib chief Nikki Rocco credited a strong ad campaign for mobilizing auds.

Second sessions

Among the sophomores, Lions Gate’s sequel slasher “Saw II” chopped up $17.2 million in its second outing, a mellow 46% drop-off from its big opening. Pic finished No. 3 on the chart; cume is $60.5 million.

Finishing fourth, Sony’s “The Legend of Zorro” saw a shallow 39% drop in its soph sesh, collecting $10 million and pushing cume to $30.3 million.

Rounding out the top five, U’s “Prime” drew the shallowest drop of the session, dipping just 15% to $5.3 million; cume is $13.5 million.

Further down the chart, Paramount’s Nicolas Cage starrer “The Weather Man” dropped to eighth place in its second outing, scoring $2.9 million and bringing cume to $8.7 million.

Strong perfs by both “Chicken Little” and “Jarhead” drove total box office to $138 million, according to Nielsen EDI’s estimate. However, with “Incredibles” opening in last year’s comparison frame, the weekend was still off 4% compared with 2004.

The fall season, though, is still nearly flat against last years.

Since Labor Day, total box office is running at $1.118 billion, compared with $1.122 billion during the same period last year. For the year, the new total box office figure of $7.153 billion is 6.4% behind last year’s running tally.

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