Box Office Report: 'The Lion King' Roars Again, Capturing $29.3 Million

9:07 AM PST 09/18/2011 by Gregg Kilday
Walt Disney

"Drive" shows the most gas among the newcomers, surpassing "Straw Dogs" and "I Don't Know How She Does It."

With a mighty roar, Disney’s 17-year old The Lion King claimed the weekend box office crown, easily conquering three new wide releases in the process. Freshly updated to a new 3D version, the classic animated movie took in an estimated $29.3 million in North America, an astounding number.

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Of the new arrivals, FilmDistrict’s Drive, the neo-noir thriller starring Ryan Gosling showed the most gas, taking in $11 million, although it still checked in the third position, unable to pass Steven Soderbergh’s medical thriller Contagion, which, in its second weekend,  took the second spot with $14.5 million.

Sony/Scream Gem’s remake Straw Dogs, directed by Rod Lurie, settled for a fifth place showing with a $5 million opening, while the Weinstein Co.’s femme-centric comedy I Don’t Know How She Does It, with Sarah Jessica Parker, was sixth with $4.5 million.

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As the weekend began, Disney had modest expectations for King. The re-release, intended to promote a new BluRay edition of the film hitting stores Oct. 4, was expected to collect about $12-13 million. But buoyed by strong want-to-see from family audiences, and with no immediate competition from other kid-friendly titles, the movie, directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, once again captured the imagination of movie goers as it took over 2,330 theaters with a mix of 3D and 2D screens.

King already ranked as the top-grossing, hand-drawn animated film of all  time. In its previous incarnations, it had grossed more then $328.5 million domestically, and $788.2 million worldwide, including more than $10 million from its 3D re-release in Latin America.

"Definitely our expectations were exceeded," said Dave Hollis, Disney's evp, theatrical distribution. "You have to go back to the circle of life idea. Teenagers who saw it two decades ago are now parents and brought their children. Parents who saw it when it first came out are now grandparents and brought their grandchildren. It was an opportunity to see the movie in a way they hadn't seen it before. And it's a little bit of the perfect storm."

Disney had expected a big family play, and indeed 74 percent of the audience were families. But with 18 percent of its business coming from couples, the studio also reported strong business at evening screenings. Youngsters age two to 11 made up 34 percent of the audience, and women outnumbered men by 55 to 45 percent.

Coming in the wake of a number of movies where moviegoers turned away from the 3D option, King reversed that trend. While the studio didn't have a break-down on the number of 3D versus 2D screens on which the movie ultimately played, it did report that 92 percent of the toon's business came from 3D ticket sales. The studio's promotion had emphasized seeing the movie in 3D -- theaters even provided kid-sized "Simba" glasses -- and that push certainly paid off.

While King had been scheduled to play theaters for just two weeks to pave the way for its BluRay launch, the interesting question is whether it could now stay in theaters even longer. "We have not had that conversation yet, but it's the first thing we'll be discussing tomorrow once we've gotten responses in from exhibition," Hollis said. "Though I think we will be changing the wording in the ads from 'two-week run' to 'limited engagement'."

In the meantime, King has already posted a number of new stats in the record books: It's the first re-issue to open at number one in 14 years: The last time it happened was Return of the Jedi - Special Edition in 1997. The movie's bow was also the fifth biggest September opening in history, and Disney's second biggest, following 2002's Sweet Home Alabama, which bowed to $35.6 million.

Elsewhere, a couple of major holdovers made it harder for the new films in the market to gain traction. Warner's Contagion, which opened in first place last weekend with $22.4 million, fell by just 35 percent. Moving to the second slot, it picked up $14.5 million to bring its domestic tally to $44.2 million.

Disney also claimed the fourth spot for the weekend with DreamWorks' period drama The Help. In its sixth weekend of release, the movie dropped by just 28 percent, collecting another $6.4 million, which brought its domestic gross to $147.4 million.

Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn's R-rated foray into Los Angeles crime territory, exhibited the most muscle among the freshmen movies. The film, in which Gosling shares the screen with Carey Mulligan and Albert Brooks, played 2,886 theaters, grossed $11 million and so ranked third for the weekend.

Bob Berney, FilmDistrict's president of theatrical distribution, said, "We're really happy. It's an extreme film. Reactions to it are definitely polarizing." The distributor executed a tricky double play by aiming for both arthouse audiences -- critics raved about the movie at both the Cannes and Toronto film festival -- and the testosterone-fueled genre crowd. While Cinemascore returned a C- rating, Berney said, "I'm not sure where they did their polling." Noting that the film did particularly well in cities like Los Angeles and New York, Berney cited Friday night's returns at the Arclight Hollywood, where Drive took in $48,000, while the next best film, Contagion, attracted $9,000. Playing primarily to younger males and a smaller percentage of older moviegoers responding to reviews, the movie posted an 11 percent uptick from Friday to Saturday, which, Berney said, suggests good word-of-mouth going forward.

Straw Dogs, director Rod Lurie's remake of Sam Peckinpah's 1971 original, found tougher going. Opening in fifth place, it sold just $5 million worth of tickets in 2,408 locations. The R-rated drama, starring James MarsdenKate Bosworth and Alexander Skarsgard, attracted an even male-female split (49-51 percent), while 54 percent of moviegoers were over 25. It's CinemaScore rating was C. "It's a movie we're proud of. It's a really great ensemble, well-acted and well-directed," Rory Bruer, Sony president of worldwide distribution, said.

With a lot of multi-tasking moms presumably taking their kids to Lion King, the Weinstein Co. didn't attract as many of the older females it was looking for to I Don't Know How She Does It. The PG-13 rated movie, directed by Douglas McGrath and based on the novel by Allison Pearson, played 2,476 theaters, were it grossed $4.5 million, for a sixth place showing. Receiving a B- CinemaScore, the movie's audience was 80 percent female, with 50 percent of the audience over the age of 35. "

"It was disappointing. We ran right into a freight train called The Lion King," said Erik Loomis, the Weinstein Co.'s president of theatrical distribution. "Overall, women really like [I Don't Know] a lot. It really plays to that audience. So hopefully they'll find more time for it during the week.

Rounding out the top ten were: Focus Features' The Debt, at number seven, grossing $2.9 million, to bring its domestic tally to $26.5 million; Lionsgate's Warrior, eighth, $2.8 million, $9.9 million; Fox's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, ninth, $2.6 million, $171.6 million; and Sony's Colombiana, tenth, $2.3 million, $33.3 million.

On the specialty film front, Sony Pictures Classics' opened Gus Van Sant's offbeat Restless, starring Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper, on five screens to the tune of $17,285 and a per-screen average of $3,457. Cohen Media Group, the new distributor that just picked up two films in Toronto, The Lady and Awakenings, bowed Jean Becker's My Afternoons with Margueritte, in two theaters, where it collected $20,914, for a per-screen average of $10,457.

Paladin debuted Tiffany Shlain's documentary Connected on three screens in San Francisco, where it picked up $17,100 for a per-screen of $5,700. Tribeca Films opened the documentary Shut Up Little Man, which previously played San Francisco, in exclusive engagements in New York and Los Angeles, where it pulled in $8,500 for a per-screen average of $4,250.

While Focus is not opening the spy drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in the U.S. until Dec. 9, Studio Canal UK launched the film, based on the John le Carre novel, in the U.K., where it was number one for the weekend, grossing 1.2 million pounds.

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