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Box Office Preview: 'The Lion King' in 3D Poised to Steal Weekend Crown

Lion King
Walt Disney

Ryan Gosling's "Drive" also opens after a strong showing at the Toronto Film Festival, while remake "Straw Dogs" and the Sarah Jessica Parker comedy "I Don't Know How She Does It" are tracking more modestly.

Disney's 3D version of the The Lion King hits the domestic box office this weekend in advance of its Diamond Blu-Ray release on Oct. 4 and is widely expected to roar louder than the competition and seize the weekend crown.

Simba's biggest competition will be holdover Contagion, which opened to a strong $22.4 million last weekend, and the critically acclaimed Ryan Gosling action-drama Drive, one of three new films.

Box office observers believe Lion King will gross $11-13 million for the weekend -- considering the lack of family product in the market -- while Steven Soderbergh's Contagion is poised to earn $11-12 million.

In fall of 2009, Disney rereleased 3D versions of Toy Story/Toy Story 2 over the Oct. 2-4 weekend, taking in $12.4 million.

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Lion King is going out in 2,330 locations; most theaters will play the family film on both 3D and 2D screens. Theaters didn't seem to object playing the animated classic, even though it's seen by some as a promotional effort for the upcoming Blu-Ray release.

But the film most of Hollywood will be watching this weekend is Drive, a favorite at both this year's Toronto and Cannes film festivals. If word-of-mouth is good, Drive could overperform and beat Contagionfor the No. 2 spot.

Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, Drive should gross in the $9-10 million range, a solid number for what's essentially an elevated genre film. FilmDistrict, which is distributing Drive domestically, expects the action-drama -- also starring Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston -- to have especially strong legs and good repeat business.

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Drive is tracking best with males under 35 and also is picking up interest among younger women because of Gosling. FilmDistrict held 150 promotional screenings this week, following its North American premiere at Toronto on Sept. 10.

But Drive, opening in 2,886 theaters, won't be the only R-rated genre pic vying for male love -- Rod Lurie's remake Straw Dog salso opens.

Straw Dogs, from Screen Gems and starring True Blood's Alexander Skarsgard, James Marsden and Kate Bosworth, is projected to gross in the $7-8 million range.

Straw Dogs, made for $20 million and opening in 2,408 theaters, is tracking best with younger, urban audiences.

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The female offering of the weekend is the Weinstein Co.'s Sarah Jessica Parker comedy I Don't Know How She Does It, which goes out in 2,476 locations. The PG-13 pic is looking at a modest opening in the $6-8 million range.

The Weinstein Co. believes the film, also starring Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear and Seth Meyers, will instead hold in well, since women don't necessarily rush out on opening weekend. How She Does Itcost in the low-$20 million range to make.

At the specialty box office, Sony Pictures Classics opens Gus Van Zant's Restless, starring Mia Wasikowska, in five theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto.