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SUNDAY AM: North American numbers show this weekend at the box office was a dogfight. Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua made it No. 1 two weeks in a row by beating all four opening movies. It ended the weekend with an estimated $17.5M thanks to Friday’s $4.5 million haul and Saturday’s $7.6 million from crowded kiddie matinees and adults unaccompanied by children, and Sunday’s projected $5.4 million in 3,215 theaters. With a -40% hold from a week ago, the four-quadrant family fare’s new cume is now $53M, showing that moviegoers sure love those yappy rat dogs.

But the surprise No. 2 movie was Screen Gems/Sony’s low-cost horror flick Quarantine which scared up $5.4 million Friday and $5.5 million Saturday from 2,461 theaters for a $14.2M weekend gross. And the studio brought in the pic for just $12M. Sony also kept the marketing costs downs: it told me it limited the terrifying TV ads to only 15-second spots: “Not only does it save money,” one insider told me, “but people can’t take much more.” The opening weekend demographics showed 52%/48% male and female, and 41%/59% under 21 years old and over 21.

Now for the real news: Hollywood was talking about Warner Bros’ disastrous debut of its war-on-terror spy thriller Body of Lies. True, competitors sensed weak pre-weekend wannasee — but no one expected the pic to underperform this badly. “Maybe it should be retitled Body Bags?” one rival studio exec emailed me Saturday night. That’s because its FSS total is only $13.1 million, not the $20M that the studio expected, after taking in just $4.4 million Friday and $5.2 million Saturday from 2,710 dates. Which is bad news for the studio that didn’t have a financial partner on the film. “Warner’s Body Of Lies now rivals Warner’s Speed Racer for the crown of biggest trainwrecks of the year,” one mogul gloated. “This is their second $100+ budget film to open under $20 million.” How humiliating that Oscar-touted talent like Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe (who gained 50 pounds for the role) and Ridley Scott were dogged at the box office and wound up only #3. Even though Warner Bros had been spending big marketing money since late August/early September trying to make Body Of Lies into an event movie. “You could smell their desperation,” one studio marketing rival emailed me. But audiences ran the other way, which is what happens when the script, though based on a book, doesn’t measure up.

Two holdovers hung on. The 4th place DreamWorks/Paramount’s Eagle Eye starring Shia LeBoeuf made $3.2 million Friday and $4.7 million Saturday from 3,614 theaters for an $11M weekend and fresh $70.5M cume. And 5th place Sony’s Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist took in $2.2 million Friday and $2.7 million Saturday from 2,421 runs for a $6.5M weekend and new cume of $20.8M.

Universal’s football tear-jerker The Express, a biopic about the first Afro-American Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, opened only No. 6 with $1.5 million Friday and $1. million Saturday from 2,808 theaters for what was a very disappointing $4.7M weekend. The studio screened it for three months to “genuine thunderous applause,” a source told me — showing once again that test screenings are meaningless. But its gross was only 2/3’s what Uni hoped it would earn. It remains to be seen if the pic has legs.

Warner Bros’ mature romance Nights in Rodanthe came in #7 with an FSS of $4.6 million and fresh $32.3M cume. In 8th place, Warner Bros’ Appaloosa took in $3.3 million from 1,290 plays for a new cume of $20.8M. Also The Duchess from Paramount Vantage starring Keira Knightley finished its 4th weekend in 9th place with $3.3 million and a new cume of $5.6M.

Finally, Fox Walden’s costly newcomer City Of Ember starring Bill Murray and distributed by 20th did so poorly — $970K Friday and $1.2 million Saturday from 2,022 runs for only a $3.2M weekend — that it only placed #10. This was supposed to start a new family film franchise based on a children’s book. But instead Fox Walden had a meltdown after fully financing and producing this bomb.

In other movies of interest, a low-cost holdover, Provident/Samual Goldwyn’s faith-based firefighter saga Fireproof, finished its 3rd weekend with $3 million and a new cume of $16.7M for 11th place.

Also, for the 2nd straight week, Bill Maher’s liberal spoof Religulous from Lionsgate thrashed David Zucker’s conservative satire An American Carol from Vivendi Entertainment even though the Maher movie was playing in just a 1/3 as many theaters as Zucker’s pic (568 vs 1,621). The final numbers were $2.2M to $1.5M.

Overall, the weekend total was right at $105M, which is up 5.76% from last year’s $99.2M. With a hefty Columbus Day Monday still to come, the theatrical box office appears not only recession-proof but depression-proof.