LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Canine comedy "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" was top dog at the North American box offices, digging up $29 million in ticket sales in its first weekend in theaters, according to studio estimates on Sunday.
Thriller "Eagle Eye" with rising star Shia LaBeouf fell to No. 2 in its second week with $17.7 million, and teen comedy-romance "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist", starring the awkward heartthrob Michael Cera, debuted at No. 3 with $12 million.
"Beverly Hills Chihuahua" scored big for Walt Disney Pictures, a unit of The Walt Disney Co., with an irresistible dog tale and a smart marketing campaign that appealed to parents and kids who haven't had a good family film in months, industry watchers said.
"Everyone in Hollywood thought the little chihuahua would take a big bite out of the box office," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Media By Numbers.
The top chihuahua is Papi, the street-wise pet of a gardener who falls head over heels for a pampered, diamond-clad Beverly Hills pooch named Chloe. When Chloe gets lost in Mexico, Papi heads south of the border to rescue his love.
"Eagle Eye," about two people in a race against time to prove they are not fugitives from the law, helped push the overall box office up for the second consecutive weekend after months of slumps. The film released by DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc, has $54.6 million to show in proceeds in its first two weeks.
"Nick & Norah" looks to be another modestly budgeted winner for Sony Corp, recouping in its first weekend nearly all its $13 million cost.
Nick and Norah, played by Cera of "Juno" and "Superbad" fame and Kat Dennings, are New Jersey high school students who frequent the rock clubs of New York and depict today's youth in all its Facebook, iPod glory.
Rounding out the top five are two Warner Bros. films: "Nights in Rodanthe," the romantic drama starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane, and the western "Appaloosa", directed by actor Ed Harris, who also stars in the film with Viggo Mortensen.
The documentary "Religulous," humorist Bill Maher's attack on organized religions, came in at No. 10 with $3.5 million in its first weekend. But the film released by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp, showed a per-theater average of $7,000, a high number for a documentary.
"Timing is right for this movie with the election coming up," said Dergarabedian, referring to the U.S. elections on November 4.
Another sign of early success came from the limited release of family drama "Rachel Getting Married," which opened in just nine theaters and grossed $300,000. The film released by Sony Pictures Classics stars Anne Hathaway as a woman furloughed from rehab for her sister's wedding.
Reporting by Mary Milliken; Editing by Cynthia Osterman