Box Office: It's Good To Be The Lion King

Moneyball, Dolphin Tale also strong; Abduction, Killer Elite weak.



Multiplexes across North America were busier than normal for this time of year as the hit re-release The Lion King 3D held onto the number one spot for a second frame driving the box office to a new record high for the month of September. Moviegoers also lined up for Seven partners Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as their new releases Moneyball and Dolphin Tale both debuted higher than expected in a close battle for second place. For the first time in history, three different films grossed north of $20M on the same September weekend as the Top 20 soared to a stellar $115M - a new record for the back-to-school month.

Thanks to a remarkable sophomore hold, The Lion King 3D ruled over the charts for a second weekend in a row just as the original blockbuster did back in June 1994. The G-rated re-release slipped only 27% and grossed an estimated $22.1M boosting its ten-day cume to a fantastic $61.7M. Despite intense competition for kids and parents, the Hakuna Matata pic remained wildly popular with a wide array of moviegoers allowing it to cling to the number one spot. King's lifetime total (including 2003's IMAX release) climbed to $390.2M putting it at number 12 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters.

Stunted as a two-week-only event, the updated Lion King is scheduled to leave theaters this Thursday and hit Blu-ray 3D the following week on October 4. However, the studio's past two-week runs for Toy Story and Miley Cyrus films were extended and the same is expected for Simba given how much money it is still making. Despite its current home video availability, people still want to experience the beloved film on the big screen and many are introducing it to a new generation of children or just reliving their younger days. An extended theatrical run could deposit another $40M+ into Disney's vault and allow the re-release to surpass the $100M barrier.

Actor/producer Brad Pitt clinched second place but still scored a major victory with crtics and movie fans alike with his baseball drama Moneyball which opened to an estimated $20.6M. The Sony release averaged a solid $6,883 per site from 2,993 locations and played to a much older adult crowd although the gender split was about even. Studio research showed that 64% of the audience was over 35 while males made up 51%. Based on the true story of how the 2002 Oakland A's rebuilt their team after losing their best players, Moneyball earned high praise across the board from film critics. Moviegoers were equally pleased with the PG-13 pic earning a promising A CinemaScore.

With strong reviews, stellar word-of-mouth, and an older audience not likely to rush out on opening weekend, Moneyball is well-positioned to enjoy solid legs in the weeks ahead. Baseball is about to start its post-season so the film will remain topical for weeks to come. Plus Pitt is earning plenty of Oscar buzz for his acting performance which will keep the film hot too. Overseas prospects are promising too despite the baseball theme because of Pitt's incredible box office pull around the world. With a reported $50M production cost, Moneyball may be able to find its way to $250M or more worldwide.

Another uplifting film based on a true story opened close behind in third. The Warner Bros. release Dolphin Tale scored big points with audiences collecting an estimated $20.3M this weekend averaging a good $5,777 from 3,507 locations. Playing in 2D and 3D, the PG-rated tale about an injured dolphin and the people who help her saw 50% of its gross come from the extra-dimensional screens. Reviews were very good and audiences loved what they saw giving Tale an amazing A+ CinemaScore grade. Saturday saw a tremendous 70% leap in ticket sales over opening day giving it the best jump in the top ten. Strong legs will keep this feel-good film going in the weeks ahead. Starring Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., and Ashley Judd, Dolphin Tale's performance was especially impressive given how much of the family audience is already distracted by The Lion King right now.

If none of next weekend's four new releases truly pop then Moneyball and Dolphin Tale could find themselves in another fierce battle - this time for the number one spot. Breaking the $100M mark this fall is certainly a possibility for each film.

Teen girls came out in lukewarm numbers for their favorite shirtless wolf Taylor Lautner who saw an estimated $11.2M opening for his first starring vehicle Abduction. Lionsgate went very wide with the PG-13 thriller going out in 3,118 theaters which resulted in a mild $3,592 average. The distributor rarely releases a film in 3,000+ playdates. Studio research showed that the audience was 68% female and 56% under 25 indicating that the critically-panned film struggled to find appeal outside of its primary young-female quadrant. But at least Lautner found more success than his Twilight co-stars and broke double digit millions. Kristen Stewart's Adventureland bowed to just $5.7M while Robert Pattinson's Remember Me debuted to $8.1M. The vampire heartthrob did score a nice hit earlier this year with the romance Water for Elephants which opened to $16.8M, however that film was led by bankable Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon.

Rookie distributor Open Road saw a slow start with its first release Killer Elite which posted the worst opening among the four new films this weekend with an estimated $9.5M. The R-rated actioner starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen, and Robert De Niro averaged a weak $3,182 from 2,986 theaters. Its 9% Friday-to-Saturday bump was also the lowest for any freshman flick. Reviews from critics were mostly negative but audiences were somewhat kinder to film which earned a mediocre B grade from CinemaScore.

Holdovers rounded out the top ten with mixed results. The virus thriller Contagion held up well with an estimated $8.6M, off 41%, for a $57.1M cume for Warner Bros. All the love showered by critics on the crime drama Drive failed to do much as the FilmDistrict release fell 49% to an estimated $5.8M giving the Ryan Gosling starrer $21.4M in ten days. That may seem like a lot for an art film, but its 2,900-theater release does not come with low P&A expenses. Drive averaged a slow $1,987 per location this weekend from 2,904 sites.

The Help followed with an estimated $4.4M, down just 32%, giving Disney $154.4M to date. Sony's remake Straw Dogs collapsed in its second outing tumbling 59% to an estimated $2.1M and a measly $8.9M in ten days. Also rejected by moviegoers, Sarah Jessica Parker's comedy I Don't Know How She Does It dropped 53% to an estimated $2.1M. The Weinstein Co. has taken in a paltry $8M.

Gerard Butler's Africa-set drama Machine Gun Preacher got off to a good start in platform release with an estimated $44,000 from two theaters each in New York and Los Angeles for a $11,000 average. Drawing mixed reviews, the R-rated film expands to 15 major markets on Friday through Relativity Media.

The top ten films grossed a September record $106.6M which was up 20% from last year when Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps opened in the top spot with $19M; and up 34% from 2009 when Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs remained at number one with $25M in its second weekend.

Written by Gitesh Pandya, Box Office Guru!

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