Box Office Report: 'Lion King' Roars with $22.1 Mil in Surprise Upset Over Brad Pitt's 'Moneyball' and 'Dolphin Tale'

Lion King 3D - Film Still - H 2011
Walt Disney Pictures

Lion King 3D - Film Still - H 2011

"Moneyball" and "Dolphin Tale" open north of $20 mil; Taylor Lautner thriller "Abduction" takes in $11.2 mil, followed by Jason Statham action pic "Killer Elite" with $9.5 mil.

Disney’s 3D re-release of The Lion King remained lord of the jungle in its second weekend, pulling off another surprise upset in beating a number of new players to top the domestic box office chart with $22.1 million.

The 3D version of the animated classic has earned $61.7 million in its first 10 days of play at the domestic box office, exceeding all expectations. Overseas, where it rolled out earlier, the re-release has grossed $16 million for an impressive global total of $77.7 million.

Defying the odds, Lion King trumped Sony’s new Brad Pitt baseball drama Moneyball, which ended its opening weekend in a close race with 3D family offering Dolphin Tale, from Alcon Entertainment and Warner Bros.

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Moneyball grossed an estimated $20.6 million, while Dolphin Tale took in an estimated $20.3 million. The order of the two films could switch once final figures come in Monday morning.

Even with Lion King, Moneyball and Dolphin Tale scored strong openings in reaching $20 million, reflected in the fact that the domestic box office was up 18 percent over the same weekend a year ago. (Moneyball boasts the top opening of all time for a baseball pic, not accounting for inflation).

Dolphin Tale and Moneyball--an early awards contender, particularly for Pitt's performance--also have the potential to dig in, with moviegoers awarding Moneyball an A CinemaScore, and Dolphin Tale, a glowing A+.

Lionsgate thriller AbductionTaylor Lautner’s first solo outing—opened to a softish $11.2 million. Playing to younger women, the film received a B- CinemaScore overall and an A- from females under 18.

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Abduction was able to best Jason Statham-Robert DeNiro action pic Killer Elite, which rounded out the top five with an estimated opening of $9.5 million. Killer Elite, the first title from acquisitions and distribution company Open Road Films, earned a B CinemaScore.

Moneyball wasn't Sony's only headline--its animated pic The Smurfs jumped the $500 million global mark over the weekend, earning $12.9 million at the international box office for a worldwide total of $502.8 million.

But when it comes to family fare, no one in Hollywood can believe the power of Lion King nearly 17 years after its original release in theaters. Disney attributes the spectacular showing to the property's enduring popularity, whether because of DVD or the live stage show.

Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said there's no doubt that Lion King took business away from Dolphin Tale, but that he expects Dolphin Tale to play well for weeks to come and ultimately take in close to $100 million domestically. The inspirational pic will get a boost when most theaters stop playing Lion King on Oct. 4, the day the Diamond Blue Ray edition of the film is released.

Dolphin Tale drew 50% of its grosses from 3D theaters, a good stat considering this summer's overall decline in 3D attendance.

Dolphin Tale, costing roughly $35 million to make, was financed and produced by Alcon Entertainment, the same company behind box office hit The Blind Side.

"We're thrilled with this opening," said Alcon's Broderick Johnson, "especially considering Lion King, which no one saw coming. It's reminisicent of the The Blind Side, which also received an A+ CinemanScore.

Sony was equally as pleased with Moneyball, a favorite among critics and one of the hottest titles to premiere at the recent Toronto Film Festival. The film cost north of $50 million to produce.

"It feels good that we are getting the sort of love we think this movie deserves," Sony worldwide president of domestic distribution Rory Bruer said.

Moneyball, based on the real-life story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, played decidedly older, with 64 percent of the audience over the age of 35, but played relatively evenly among men and women. Sony believes the pic will ultimately do four times its opening number. The studio launched Moneyball in roughly the same frame it used last year to open The Social Network, which debuted to $22 million on its way to earning $97 million in North America.

Abduction was the clear choice for younger women and teenager girls who are Twilight fans. Nearly 70 percent of the audience was female, while 56 percent were under the age of 25.  There's been intense focus on the film because of Lautner, and whether he and other Twilight stars can have a career outside that franchise.

"The film will be profitable for Lionsgate, and that's great for Taylor," said Lionsgate executive vice president of domestic distribution David Spitz, adding that the pic opened in line with pre-release expectations.

Abduction, costing $35 million to produce, is off to a strong start in Australia and Latin America, although Lionsgate didn't yet have numbers.

Killer Elite opened slightly lower than other recent Jason Statham pics, and likely lost male eyeballs to Moneyball.

Open Roads CEO Tom Ortenberg said he was pleased with Killer Elite's performance. In acquiring the film, Open Roads only put up marketing costs.

"We're happy that we're making money with our first release," Ortenberg said.

At the specialty box office, Relativity Media's Gerard Butler drama Machine Gun Preacher opened in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, grossing an estimated $44,000 for a per location average of $11,000. Relativity said the film scored strong marks especially from women. On Sept. 30, the pic expands into an additional 15 markets.


Domestic Box Office Sept. 23-25


1. The Lion King/Disney/2330/$22.1 million
2. Moneyball/Sony/2,993/$20.6 million
3. Dolphin Tale/Warner Bros./3,507/$20.3 million
4. Abduction/Lionsgate/3,118/$11.2 million
5. Killer Elite/Open Road Films/2,986/$9.5 million
6. Contagion/Warner Bros./3,136/$8.7 million
7. Drive/FilmDistrict/2,904/$5.8 million
8. The Help/Disney/2,695/$4.4 million
9. Straw Dogs/Sony/2,408/$2.1 million
10. I Don’t Know How She Does It/Weinstein Co./2,490/$2 million

Source: Rentrak/Studios