News

Welcome to the Cluck: 'Chicken Little,' 'Jarhead' Top Weekend

by Brandon Gray
Chicken Little
November 7, 2005

The holiday season kicked off with a cluck and a grunt, an improvement over the thud of recent weeks but down seven percent from the comparable weekend last year when The Incredibles burst on the scene. As popular as they were, Chicken Little and Jarhead combined opened smaller than the Pixar picture's $70.5 million.

Disney's first fully computer-generated in-house production, Chicken Little, plucked $40 million from about 5,700 screens across 3,654 theaters. Though the opening was the second biggest in unadjusted grosses for a Disney-made animated feature, behind The Lion King, it was on the low end of major computer-animated features. The comedy about anthropomorphized farm animals running from an alien invasion sold a touch more tickets than Disney's traditionally-animated Lilo & Stitch, but fewer than the company's previous Pixar-free computer-animated effort, Dinosaur.

"We're thrilled to death with [the opening]," said Disney's senior vice president general sales manager, Chris LeRoy. "It's at the high end of what we possibly could have hoped for. We would have been pleased to be in the $30 million range." LeRoy added that Chicken Little marks the first Disney Digital 3D presentation at 79 theaters—accounting for $2.1 million of its opening. LeRoy noted that Sony's Monster House will be the next release in the format, and Disney's next will be Meet the Robinsons for Christmas 2006.

According to Disney's exit polling, Chicken Little's audience was 52 percent female and 49 percent under 18 years old, and it skewed 79 percent family. That suggests the picture had significantly less non-family appeal than more successful computer-animated features like Shrek 2, The Incredibles, Madagascar and Shark Tale—each of which played to about 60 percent families initially. Chicken Little's family ratio was closest to Robots, which was soft by genre standards with its $36 million start and $128.2 million final gross. Opening night pollster CinemaScore indicated that moviegoers gave the picture an "A-," a grade that's nothing to squawk about. As with all of their movies, the tight-lipped Disney would not disclose Chicken Little's production budget.

If Chicken Little under-performed, it's because it made the same mistakes as Robots—it took place in a world without context, emphasizing goofy characters and pop culture references over its story, which was unclear from the marketing. The ads proclaimed Chicken Little to be a hero, but they didn't have him do anything heroic, showing off his dance moves instead with a long non sequitur in the trailer. Pixar has arguably been the most successful brand in movies because it emphasized story first and dazzled with its animation second.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Jarhead
Nothing may have happened in the picture itself, but Jarhead enlisted $27.7 million at 2,411 locations, storming past industry expectations. Universal Pictures' $72 million military drama was in a similar range as Black Hawk Down's $28.6 million nationwide berth and was considerably stronger than Three Kings and Courage Under Fire, two pictures that also dealt with Operation Desert Storm.

"Yippee!," said Universal's head of distribution, Nikki Rocco. "That's my word. I think the entire industry had [the movie] in the high teens." In addition to crediting director Sam Mendes and cast, Rocco praised the marketing. "When the trailer was on screen, people could not turn their heads away. To be where we are speaks for itself."

Carrying the tagline "Welcome to the Suck," Jarhead's advertising was striking with its mix of war imagery and dark humor, bolstered by Kanye West's rap anthem "Jesus Walks" and actor Jamie Foxx's trailer-capping catch phase, "Ooorah." War movies are rare, but they usually draw a crowd on opening weekend, and Jarhead had the added benefit of perceived relevance to the current war. The campaign promised audiences action, but, like the grunts waiting for combat that never comes in the movie, they may have been left frustrated.

The CinemaScore rating was a "B," which spells mixed word-of-mouth. Universal's research indicated that the "story" was the top reason people saw Jarhead, followed by the "military theme" and "Jamie Foxx." The audience breakdown was 57 percent male and 52 percent over 25.

Universal does not automatically release every major picture at over 3,000 theaters, and Jarhead's relatively modest 2,411-theater start falls in line such past release patterns as 8 Mile's 2,470 and Serenity's 2,188. "You tailor your strategy to the movie," said Rocco. "We'll go with every nook and cranny of the country with King Kong."

Last weekend's horror sensation, Saw II, fell 47 percent but still drew $16.9 million. Extracting $60.1 million in 10 days from blood-thirsty audiences, Lions Gate's $4 million movie has already out-grossed its predecessor's $55.2 million final tally.

A scene from Good Night, and Good Luck.
Good Night, and Good Luck. expanded into nationwide release. Playing at 657 locations, George Clooney's 1950s journalism drama uncovered $3.1 million, for an $11 million total after 31 days. Also adding venues, Steve Martin's romantic comedy, Shopgirl, unspooled at 493 theaters and bagged $2.5 million for a 17-day tally of $3.5 million. Each picture had so-so per site averages of around $5,000.

Adult pictures held well, especially Prime and Flightplan with their 16 to 17 percent drops. Such an occurrence is not uncommon for the weekend following Halloween—last year, for example, Shall We Dance dipped a mere 10 percent.

Meanwhile, Sony held another round of sneak previews for Zathura. At 536 showings Saturday night, the family adventure played to 80 percent capacity, and the picture bows at over 3,000 theaters on Friday.

RELATED ARTICLES
• 3/14/05 - 'Robots' Rivets, 'Passion Fails to Rise Again
• 11/8/04 - $70M Fantastic for 'Incredibles'
• 10/4/04 - 'Shark Tale' Slays Box Office Blahs
• 6/24/02 - 'Minority Report' Tops 'Lilo & Stitch' in Photo Finish
• Review - 'Chicken Little'
• Review - 'Jarhead'

RELATED CHARTS
Computer Animation
Weekend Box Office Results

NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, Nov. 6 and was updated on Monday, Nov. 7 with actual grosses.



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