The Lion King Crowned Box Office Champ Again

The Lion King rode nostalgia, 3D and fantastic storytelling to the top of the North American box office for the second weekend in a row. The Disney classic held off the solid arrivals of Warner’s Dolphin Tale and Moneyball with Brad Pitt, as well as the weak debuts of Abduction with Taylor Lautner and Killer Elite, as it entered its final week in theaters prior to its October 4 debut on Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D. With three films each pulling more than $20 million in ticket sales, the top ten box office was a solid 29% higher than last week’s top ten and a healthy 20% higher than the top ten from one year ago this week.

Dropping a slight 27% from its surprisingly strong opening last weekend, The Lion King earned a regal $22.1 million from 2,330 theaters. After ten days, the reissue has earned a great $61.6 million. Were the 1994 classic to be yanked from theaters this upcoming Thursday (as the ads proclaimed it would after a two-week ‘limited’ run), chances are that the movie would head off to rule the home video market with close to $80 million in the bank. Since Disney is notorious for extending a limited run when the money is flowing in fast and furious, Simba and his pals may be able to nab close to $100 million should it stick around in enough theaters for an additional week. To date, the film has an overall all-time domestic gross (pre-inflation) of approximately $390 million.

A quartet of new films arrived on the scene this weekend, the most popular of them being Sony’s new sports flick Moneyball. Opening just in time for the start of the MLB Playoffs on 2,993 screens, the critically-acclaimed drama starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill nabbed a solid $20.6 million for a solid per-screen average of $6,883. Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote) and based on the novel by Michael Lewis, the film played largely to adult audiences, who can help the film become a mid-league hit if word-of-mouth is strong enough to match the 94% Rotten Tomatoes critical approval rating.

Also arriving on the scene to strong critical response (83% on Rotten Tomatoes) and a solid debut to match was Warner’s family drama Dolphin Tale. Directed by actor Charles Martin Smith (The Untouchables, American Graffiti, Never Cry Wolf) and starring Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr., the film is based on the true-life story of a very unique rescue of a dolphin whose tale was damaged when it got caught in a crab trap. Arriving on a very wide 3,507 screen count, Dolphin Tale rescued $20.1 million in its first three days for a good per-screen average of $5,777 per screen. With The Lion King losing most if not all of its screens next weekend, Tale should have the family market to itself for the next few weeks, which may translate into a nice swim at the box office.

He’s a big star when he is playing a werewolf in the Twilight series. But when he is headlining his own movie, however, Taylor Lautner can’t seem to get himself arrested. Case in point: the anemic opening of his espionage thriller Abduction, which opened on 3,118 screens to a weak $11.2 million. The film, directed by John Singleton (Boyz N The Hood), earned a pathetic 3% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Not faring much better was the Jason Statham/Clive Owen/Robert “Paycheck” De Niro action flick Killer Elite. New film studio Open Road debuted the critically lambasted flick (23% on RT) on 2,986 screens, and could only muster $9.5 million in estimated sales to land in fifth place.

The remainder of the top ten was as follows:

6) Contagion (Warner Brothers) $8.5 million ($57.1 million to date)

7) Drive (FilmDistrict) $5.7 million ($21.4 million)

8) The Help (Disney/Dreamworks) $4.4 million ($154.4 million)

9) Straw Dogs (2011) (Sony) $2.1 million ($8.8 million)

10) I Don’t Know How She Does It (Weinstein Company) $2 million ($8 million)

Next weekend, the cancer comedy/drama 50/50 debuts as well as Fox’s comedy What’s Your Number?, the Universal thriller Dream House and the TriStar drama Courageous. They are all surely thankful The Lion King is returning to Pride Rock.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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