Box Office Report: 'Lion King' Scores Huge Upset, on Course for $22-$24 Mil Weekend

Lion King - Movie Still: animals dancing in front of moon - H - 1994
Walt Disney

Ryan Gosling's "Drive" has a hard time keeping up with "Contagion," while Sarah Jessica Parker comedy “I Don’t Know How She Does It” and "Straw Dogs" underwhelm.

In one of the biggest surprises of the year, Disney’s re-release of The Lion King is off to a roaring start at the domestic box office, where it’s now projected to gross $22 million to $24 million for the weekend.

Families are turning out in force to see the 3D conversion of the 1994 animated classic (theaters also are playing the toon on 2D screens), which was largely intended to promote the Oct. 4 release of the Diamond Blu-Ray edition of the film. But the theatrical run is turning out to be a phenomenon in and of itself.

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Heading into the weekend, Lion King was expected to gross $12 million to $13 million; by midday Friday, those figures had been revised upwards to $15 million or better. For Disney, the news kept getting better and better as the evening wore on (some box office pundits, however, thought it would gross $18 million to $20 million all along).

Lion King remains the top grossing hand-drawn animation film of all time, and ushered in what's known as the "Disney Renaissance." All told, it's grossed north of $328.5 million domestically, and $788.2 million worldwide, includng more than $10 million already earned in Latin America by the 3D re-release.

For Friday itself, Lion King is on track to earn $7 million to $8 million -- more than the sluggish $5 million to $5.2 million that new films I Don’t Know How She Does It, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, and Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs remake are expected to gross for the entire weekend.

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Ryan Gosling's action-drama Drive, the third new film of the weekend, is faring better, but it’s now unlikely that it can beat Warner Bros. holdover Contagion for No. 2. Box office observers put Drive’s weekend gross at $10 million to $11 milion, while Contagion is looking at a stellar second weekend gross of $13 million.

While the R-rated Drive has been warmly embraced by critics, and a favorite at the Toronto and Cannes film festivals this year, it received a dismal C- CinemaScore from moviegoers turning out on Friday.  The movie skewed older, with 75% of the audience over the age of 25, but played fairly evenly among the genders. FilmDistrict is releasing Drive in the U.S.

DreamWorks and Participant Media's The Help will take the No. 4 spot with a weekend gross of roughly $6.7 million.

I Don’t Know How She Does It, from the Weinstein Co., and Screen Gems' Straw Dogs -- starring Alexander Skarsgard, James Marsden and Kate Bosworth -- will vie for the No. 5 and No. 6 spots.

Also starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear, I Don't Know How She Does It received a B- CinemaScore, the best grade among the three new films. As expected, the film played heavily to females, who made up 74% of the audience. More than 80% of those turning out Friday night were over the age of 25.

Straw Dogs didn't fare much better than Drive in terms of audience reaction. The R-rated pic received a C CinemaScore, and played best to older males.