Movie Projector: 'Beauty and the Beast,' 'Contraband' fight for No. 1
The 1991 animated classic "Beauty and the Beast" is getting a 3-D re-release this weekend, and Walt Disney Studios is hoping the film will appeal to a new generation of moviegoers. The picture will probably be in a tight race for the No. 1 box office spot with the Mark Wahlberg action flick "Contraband." Pre-release audience surveys indicate that each movie is expected to debut with between $17 million and $20 million over the four-day Martin Luther King holiday.
Lagging behind could be "Joyful Noise," the religious-themed musical starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, which is projected to open with about $15 million.
If the success of last year's 3-D re-release of "The Lion King" is any indication, the new "Beauty and the Beast" could have an edge over its competitors this weekend. Both Disney and the industry at large were surprised when the reformatted jungle tale opened to a strong $30.2 million last September. The movie ultimately raked in $94.2 million domestically, prompting the studio to plan 3-D reissues of four other titles from its animated catalog.
The debut of the updated "Beauty and the Beast" probably will be a bellwether for the prospects of Disney's similar upcoming re-releases -- which include "Finding Nemo," "Monsters Inc." and "The Little Mermaid." The studio is expecting "Beauty" to perform only half as well as "The Lion King" by the end of its run, because the original fairy tale pulled in a total of $171.4 million in the U.S. and Canada, compared with the animal story's $422.8 million.
Disney spent less than $10 million to convert "Beauty" to 3-D.
While the animated film is targeting a family audience, "Contraband" is an action thriller expected to appeal mostly to young males. The movie, a remake of the Icelandic hit "Reykjavik-Rotterdam," stars Wahlberg as a con man taking on his final crime job. The picture was co-financed by Universal Pictures and Relativity Media for about $25 million.
Wahlberg is coming off the success of 2010's critical and commercial hit "The Fighter," the boxing drama that opened to $12.1 million and ended up with an impressive $93.6 million in ticket sales. However, the actor's last two action films -- 2007's "Shooter" and 2008's "Max Payne" -- only did middling business, each bringing in under $50 million.
"Joyful Noise" marks Parton's return to the big screen after nearly two decades, when she starred in the box office dud "Straight Talk" in 1992. The country star also had major roles in two more successful films, the 1989 tear-jerker "Steel Magnolias" and 1980 comedy "Nine to Five."
Her co-star Latifah, meanwhile, has not proved to be a big box office draw in recent years. Her last big role came in 2010's "Just Wright," a romantic comedy that grossed just $21.5 million.
"Joyful Noise" is being distributed by Warner Bros. but was produced by Alcon Entertainment for about $25 million. The film may strike a chord with a faith-based audience, however, as the story centers on the financial troubles of a small-town church choir. Last year, movies with religious themes including "Soul Surfer," "Courageous" and Alcon's own "Dolphin Tale" did respectable business in theaters.
-- Amy Kaufman
Photo: A still from the animated 1991 film "Beauty and the Beast." Credit: Walt Disney Studios