Box Office Report: Brad Pitt's 'Moneyball' and Family Pic 'Dolphin Tale' in Close Race

Sony Pictures; Warner Bros.

Taylor Lautner starrer "Abduction" and Jason Statham action pic "Killer Elite" trail behind.

Brad Pitt baseball drama Moneyball and family pic Dolphin Tale are in a close race at the weekend box office, making it difficult to call which movie will score the winning homerun.

Early returns show both films grossing in the $20 million range for the weekend, although Moneyball is expected to win the the Friday race itself. But since family films often gain traction on Saturday and Sunday, Dolphin Tale -- from Alcon Entertainment and Warner Bros., the same team behind The Blind Side -- could pull ahead.

Still, Sony’s Moneyball is no slouch and could dig in. The film is drawing glowing notices, particularly for Pitt’s performance, and is benefiting from strong interest among males and older females.

PHOTOS: 'Moneyball' Premiere in Oakland

The weekend’s two other films -- Taylor Lautner thriller Abduction and Jason Statham-Robert DeNiro action pic Killer Elite -- will depend heavily on nighttime business, so early returns make predictions difficult. However, box office observers put weekend grosses for the two films at $10 million to $13 million, in line with pre-release expectations.

Directed by Bennett Miller, Moneyball stars Brad Pitt as the real-life Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s who turned the franchise around despite the team’s bleak financial situation.

Moneyball, also starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and Jonah Hill, is based on Michael Lewis’ 2003 book of the same name and made its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

Dolphin Tale also boasts strong awareness and good reviews, and is tracking well with women and families. Directed by Charles Martin Smith, the feel-good film is based on a true story about a bottlenose dolphin rescued off the Florida Coast after her tail was injured.

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Alcon and Warner Bros. marketed the movie -- starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman -- both to faith-based audiences and general moviegoers, as they did with Blind Side.

The early strength of Dolphin Tale is another win for the family genre. Last weekend, Disney’s 3D re-release of The Lion King topped the box office chart with a stellar $30.2 million opening. Lion King is expected to fall about 50% in its second outing.

Lionsgate’s Abduction is the clear choice among teen girls and younger women and could easily over-perform.

In the action-thriller, directed by John Singleton, Lautner plays a teenager who learns his parents aren’t who they say they are when he sees his picture on a missing children’s website. The film, which is recieving poor reviews, also stars Lily Collins, Sigourney Weaver, Maria Bello and Freema Agyeman.

Killer Elite is the first release from Tom Ortenberg’s Open Road Films, the independent acquisitions and distribution company backed by AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment.

Killer Elite is sparking plenty of interest among males, but will have to compete with Moneyball. The film also stars Clive Owen and was directed by Gary McKendry.

Moneyball and Killer Elite aren’t the only titles playing at the recent Toronto Film Festival to bow this weekend at the domestic box office: Relativity Media opens Gerard Butler action biopic Machine Gun Preacher in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles before expanding into 15 additional markets on Sept. 30.

Relativity acquired U.S. distribution rights to Machine Gun Preacher from Lionsgate.