Box Office: Pitt, Lautner beat by 17-year-old 'Lion King' [Updated]
"The Lion King" is proving to be far more ferocious than Hollywood imagined.
A 3-D version of the classic 1994 animated film claimed the No. 1 spot at the box office for a second consecutive weekend, beating out four new films. Ticket sales for the re-release dropped only 27% this weekend to $22.1 million, bringing the movie's domestic tally to $61.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor Walt Disney Pictures.
"Moneyball," a baseball drama with Brad Pitt, grossed a respectable $20.6 million, just barely edging out another family film at the box office. "Dolphin Tale," an inspirational story in 3-D about an injured sea creature, debuted to a solid $20.3 million.
"Abduction," starring "Twilight" heartthrob Taylor Lautner in his first leading role outside the teen franchise, brought in a so-so $11.2 million. And "Killer Elite," an action film featuring Robert de Niro and Jason Statham, started off with a soft $9.5 million.
Pitt's performance in "Moneyball" is already being buzzed about by awards pundits, and those who saw the film this weekend also responded positively to the star's turn in the film. Audiences gave the movie on average a grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Executives at Sony, which produced the picture for a little more than $50 million, are hopeful the strong grade means the film will gross four to five times what it made this weekend by the end of its run in theaters.
The film appealed equally to men and women, though its audience was largely older -- 64% of the crowd was over the age of 35. The movie, based on Michael Lewis' bestselling nonfiction book, stars Pitt as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, who uses a controversial statistical approach when putting together his team. The movie had the biggest debut ever for a film about baseball -- not accounting for inflation -- beating the openings of 2006's "Benchwarmers" and 2002's "The Rookie."
"Dolphin Tale," based on the true story of a mammal that lost its tail in a crab trap, was produced for about $37 million by Alcon Entertainment and is being distributed by Warner Bros. At that cost, the movie's financial backers are likely to end up in good shape because word of mouth about the picture is expected to be excellent.
Moviegoers who saw "Dolphin Tale" this weekend gave it on average a grade of A+, making it the third film this year -- along with "Soul Surfer" and "The Help" -- to earn a perfect score. Much like "Soul Surfer," about a girl whose arm was bitten off by a shark, "Dolphin Tale" was marketed to a faith-based audience.
The inspirational drama starring Harry Connick Jr. and Morgan Freeman performed solidly in "home-schooling areas and the Bible belt" said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. "It played like 'The Blind Side,' " he said, referring to the uplifting 2009 Sandra Bullock drama that also resonated with religious audiences. Theaters in Miami and Baltimore saw ticket sales jump about 180% from Friday to Saturday this weekend, Fellman noted.
Lionsgate spent about $35 million to produce "Abduction," Lautner's bid to become a serious action star like Tom Cruise or Matt Damon. Not surprisingly, the film did best this weekend with the teen star's key demographic -- young women and girls. Of those who saw the movie, 68% were female, and 56% of the crowd was under the age of 25.
Critics hated "Abduction": As of Sunday morning, the movie had received a dismal 3% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Fans weren't enamored with the film either, giving it an average grade of B-. Still, ticket sales jumped 21% from Friday to Saturday, indicating that the movie is not being hurt by bad buzz.
Moviegoers gave "Killer Elite" a decent grade of B. The picture was the released by Open Road Films, a joint venture of theater operators Regal Entertainment and AMC Entertainment. The company acquired the movie from Australia's Omnilab Media, which financed the film for about $70 million.
[Updated at 2:45 p.m., Sept. 25: "The Smurfs" passed the $500-million mark at the global box office this weekend as the film starring a slew of blue cartoon characters continues to do huge business overseas. The film grossed $12.9 million abroad this weekend, performing best in Italy and Australia. The additional ticket sales bring the film's international total to $364.4 million and raise its worldwide tally to $502.8 million.
2. "Moneyball" (Sony): Opened to $20.6 million.
3. "Dolphin Tale" (Warner Bros./Alcon): Opened to $20.3 million.
4. "Abduction" (Lionsgate): Opened to $11.2 million.
5. "Killer Elite" (Open Road/Omnilab): Opened to $9.5 million.
6. "Contagion" (Warner Bros./Participant): $8.6 million on its third weekend, down 41%. $1.6 million overseas in six foreign markets. Domestic total: $57.1 million. International total: $6.5 million.
7. "Drive" (FilmDistrict/Bold Films/Odd Lot): $5.7 million on its second weekend, down 49%. Domestic total: $21.4 million.
8. "The Help" (Disney/Dreamworks/Participant): $4.4 million on its seventh weekend, down 32%. $1.1 million overseas in one foreign market. Domestic total: $154.4 million. International total: $7.2 million.
9. "Straw Dogs" (Sony): $2.1 million on its second weekend, down 59%. Domestic total: $8.9 million
10. "I Don't Know How She Does It" (Weinstein Co.): $2.1 million on its second weekend, down 53%. Domestic total: $8 million.]
-- Amy Kaufman
Photo: The protagonist Simba in "The Lion King." Credit: Disney