"This is only word-of-mouth coming back to us from theaters. I don't have any statistical proof. But they're telling us we're getting more unaccompanied-by-children adults coming on their own. They're looking for a little entertainment," Viane said. "The axiom we've always lived by is funny is money. People come out for comedy. They love to sit back and let someone give them a couple of hours of escapism."
The weekend's No. 2 flick - the fright film "Quarantine," which debuted with $14.2 million - filled the escapism needs for the horror crowd. The Sony Screen Gems release centers on a contagion that turns an apartment building's tenants into flesh-hungry monsters.
"It's probably the perfect kind of movie for today's climate," said Rory Bruer, Sony head of distribution. "Let's just get away from the news, from all that's going on, and go someplace else, and this is something that'll take you someplace else."
The marquee trio of Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott had to settle for third-place with their terrorism thriller "Body of Lies," which had a $13.1 million debut. The Warner Bros. film centers on a CIA operative hunting the terrorist responsible for bombings around the world.
"Body of Lies" may have dealt with too sober a topic after all the disastrous financial news, said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros.
"I think we ran into really difficult timing. The nation suffered such an economic loss this week that the mood of our audience was such that they were probably looking for a little more escapism than to see a movie on terrorism," Fellman said.
The weekend's other new wide releases, Universal's football drama "The Express" and 20th Century Fox's family fantasy "City of Ember," opened weakly.
"The Express" - starring Rob Brown and Dennis Quaid in the story of Ernie Davis, the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy - came in at No. 6 with $4.7 million.
"City of Ember," with Tim Robbins and Bill Murray in a post-apocalyptic adventure set in an underground realm, took in $3.2 million to finish at No. 10.
Keira Knightley's historical saga "The Duchess" climbed into the top 10 as it expanded nationwide after three weekends in limited release. The Paramount Vantage drama, which stars Knightley as an 18th century aristocrat stuck in a loveless marriage, pulled in $3.32 million to place No. 9.
Two British movies started well in limited release. Guy Ritchie's London crime romp "RocknRolla" opened with $141,000 in seven theaters. The Warner Bros. release features Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton and Tom Wilkinson heading an ensemble cast.
Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky," a Miramax release starring Sally Hawkins as a woman whose eternal optimism is continually challenged, premiered with $80,000 in four theaters.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," $17.5 million.
2. "Quarantine," $14.2 million.
3. "Body of Lies," $13.1 million.
4. "Eagle Eye," $11 million.
5. "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," $6.5 million.
6. "The Express," $4.7 million.
7. "Nights in Rodanthe," $4.6 million.
8. "Appaloosa," $3.34 million.
9. "The Duchess," $3.32 million.
10. "City of Ember," $3.2 million.
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Universal Pictures, Focus Features and Rogue Pictures are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co.; Sony Pictures, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; DreamWorks, Paramount and Paramount Vantage are divisions of Viacom Inc.; Disney's parent is The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is a division of The Walt Disney Co.; 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox Atomic are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros., New Line, Warner Independent and Picturehouse are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a consortium of Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Sony Corp., Comcast Corp., DLJ Merchant Banking Partners and Quadrangle Group; Lionsgate is owned by Lionsgate Entertainment Corp.; IFC Films is owned by Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp.