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Just how well did "Chicken Little" really do this past weekend?

Just how well did "Chicken Little" really do this past weekend?

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I'll admit it. It's hard not to be impressed with "Chicken Little" 's performance at the box office this past weekend.

After all, Disney's newest animated feature sold more than $40 million dollars worth of tickets over the past three days. Which is admittedly a hell of a lot better than the pundits (myself included) predicted this picture would do.

But -- that said -- I think that it's important to put "Chicken Little" 's performance in context. To give JHM readers some idea how the opening weekend grosses for Disney's new computer animated feature compare to all the other CG films that have been released since 1995:

Computer Animated Features
Opening Weekend Grosses
Domestic Release

Shrek 2 ..........................$108 million
Finding Nemo ..............$70.2 million
The Incredibles ...............$70 million
Monsters, Inc. ...............$62.5 million
Toy Story 2 ................... $57.3 million
Madagascar .................$47.2 million
Shark Tale ........................$47 million
Ice Age ............................$46.3 million
Shrek ...............................$42.3 million
Chicken Little ....................$40 million

As you can see, "Chicken Little" came in tenth of this list. Which (to my way of thinking, anyway) is a fairly respectable way for WDFA to begin its CG era. Particularly when you take into consideration the sorts of grosses that Disney Feature Animation's more recent releases have pulled down on their opening weekends:

Walt Disney Feature Animation
Opening Weekend Grosses
Domestic Release

Chicken Little ..........................$40 million
Dinosaur ................................$38.8 million
Tarzan ....................................$34.2 million
Lilo and Stitch .......................$35.2 million
Mulan .....................................$22.7 million
Hercules .................................$21.4 million
Hunchback of Notre Dame ......$21 million
Atlantis: The Lost Empire .....$20.3 million
Brother Bear ............................$19.4 million
Home on the Range .................$13.8 million

Now, on this version of the list, you see that "Chicken Little" comes out on top. This Mark Dindal picture had the best opening weekend performance of any film that WDFA has recently released (Though -- to be honest -- were you to adjust "Dinosaur" 's opening weekend ticket sales for inflation, I'm betting that that May 2000 film would actually have higher grosses than "Chicken Little." Anywho ...).

Of course, if you really want to put this film's opening weekend performance in proper context, you have to factor in the number of theaters that "Chicken Little" was being screened in. These days, in an effort to make their films available to the largest possible audience during their opening weekend, studios are now sending record numbers of prints out into the multiplexes:

Number of Screens that
Top Grossing Animated Films were shown on
during their Opening Weekend

Shrek 2 ...........................................................................4163 screens
Madagascar ...................................................................4131 screens
Shark Tale ......................................................................4070 screens
The Incredibles ...............................................................3933 screens
Robots ..............................................................................3776 screens
Shrek .............................................................................. 3,715 screens
Chicken Little ................................................................3,654 screens
The Polar Express .........................................................3,650 screens
Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit ............3,645 screens
Ice Age ............................................................................3,316 screens

Walt Disney Studios obviously used this same tactic in order to make sure that "Chicken Little" sold a record number of tickets over this past weekend. Want proof? Okay, compare the number of theaters that this Randy Fullmer film was released to to the number of screens that previous WDFA movies were shown on:

Number of Screens that
recent WDFA films were shown on
during their Opening Weekend

Chicken Little ................................3,654 screens
Dinosaur ........................................ 3,257 screens
Treasure Planet .............................3,227 screens
Lilo and Stitch ............................... 3,222 screens
Home on the Range ........................3058 screens
Brother Bear .................................3,030 theaters
Atlantis: The Lost Empire ............3,011 screens
Tarzan ..............................................3,005 screens
Mulan ...............................................2,888 screens
The Jungle Book II .........................2,808 screens

As you can see, "Chicken Little" was shown on almost 400 more screens than "Dinosaur" was. And yet this Mark Dindal movie still only managed to out-gross that Eric Leighton picture by an estimated $1.2 million. Which is not exactly what I'd call a decisive victory.

Anyway ... If you really want to get a handle on how a film really did at the box office during its opening weekend, you have to divide that movie's box office totals by the number of theaters that particular motion picture was screened in. It's these adjusted performance numbers that actually reveal which films were top earners during their opening weekends:

Animated Features that performed best
on their Opening Weekends based on
their Per Screen Averages

Shrek 2 ........................$25,951 per screen average
Finding Nemo .............$20,821 per screen average
Monsters, Inc. ...............$19,331 per screen average
The Incredibles .............$17,917 per screen average
Toy Story 2 .....................$17,734 per screen average
Ice Age .............................$13,966 per screen average
A Bug's Life ......................$12,232 per screen average
Dinosaur ..........................$11,929 per screen average
Toy Story ..........................$11,860 per screen average
Shark Tale ........................$11,853 per screen average

Please note that Disney's "Chicken Little" didn't make this Top 10. But -- rather -- with only a $10,970 per screen average, this Randy Fullmer film came in 15th place on this particular list.

Now, I know. Coming in 15th on that still seems pretty impressive. Until you compare "Chicken Little" 's opening weekend performance to what other recent WDFA releases earned on a per-screen-average basis:

The Opening Weekend performances
of recent Disney Animated Features based on
their Per Screen Averages


Dinosaur ...................................$11,929 per screen average
Tarzan ........................................$11,338 per screen average
Lilo and Stitch .........................$11,049 per screen average
Chicken Little ............................$10,970 per screen average
Hercules .......................................$8,125 per screen average
Mulan ............................................$7,875 per screen average
Hunchback of Notre Dame .........$7,572 per screen average
Atlantis: The Lost Empire .............$6,755 per screen average
Brother Bear ...................................$6,404 per screen average
Return to Neverland.......................$4,654 per screen average

Does it strike anyone else as ironic that -- after all the money that has recently been poured into Disney Feature Animation in order to turn that traditional animation operation to a state-of-the-art CG studio -- that "Chicken Little" 's opening weekend box office performance still couldn't quite equal the grosses of two traditionally animated films, "Tarzan" and "Lilo and Stitch"?

Or -- better yet -- that this Mark Dindal movie (even with its inflation-boosted ticket prices) still couldn't come close to matching the per-screen-average box office performance of "Dinosaur"? Which ( let's remember) was produced by WDFA during Disney's last flirtation with computer animation. When hundreds of millions of dollars were poured down "The Secret Lab" rat-hole ... Never to be seen again ...

Now please don't interpret the above article as "Chicken Little" bashing. I want to go on record as saying that I really enjoyed WDFA's latest release.

In fact, this past Friday, Nancy and I caught two performances of the picture. At one screening, this Randy Fullmer projection was traditionally projected. While -- at the next showing -- we saw "Chicken Little" in Disney Digital 3D. And both times Nancy and I found this Mark Dindal movie to be a highly enjoyable little film.

Also ... While the above article attempts to point out that "Chicken Little" wasn't exactly a smash hit, I should also say that this movie will still go on to rack up some pretty impressive numbers at the box office.

To explain: Given that an animated film's opening weekend gross typically represent 20% - 25% of what that movie will then go on to earn during its entire domestic run, this Randy Fullmer production is (as we speak) currently on track to earn $160 - $200 million. Which (obviously) is nothing to sneeze.

But -- that said -- a gross of that size isn't why Walt Disney Studios decided to shut down its traditional animation operation and go totally CG. Mickey's chasing the big bucks now. The $441 million that "Shrek 2" earned during its domestic release back in 2004, the $339 million that "Finding Nemo" made stateside during its Summer 2003 release, the $328 million that "The Lion King" made back in 1994 ...

Oh, wait a minute. That was a traditionally animated film, wasn't it ... Never mind.

Anyway ... Here's hoping that the above story gives you a better understanding of how "Chicken Little" actually did during its opening weekend. To put it bluntly, this Mark Dindal movie is off to a solid if not exactly spectacular start. Given the competition that "Chicken Little" faces in the weeks ahead (With "Zathra" opening next weekend and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" the week after that), company execs are still very concerned about how far the box office for this film will fall off. More importantly, whether this new WDFA release will actually be able to make the $160 - $200 million that it's currently projected to earn during its initial domestic run.

But -- for now -- given how brutal the bulk of the advance reviews were last week (With most reviewers attacking "Chicken Little" because Walt Disney Studios had dared to shut down its traditional animation operation. Rather than actually commenting as whether this Randy Fullmer production was really worth the price of admission), most studio executives are just pleased that "Chicken Little" did as well as it did.

That -- in spite of all the dour predictions (Including the ones that were previously run at this website) that the sky didn't actually fall this past weekend.

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