As the number-crunching characters in 'Moneyball' could tell you, a player's stats don't always mesh with his actual earning power. Indeed, 'Moneyball' was favored to win the box office competition this weekend, but the contest saw the 3D version of 'The Lion King' repeat at No. 1, earning an estimated $22.1 million and fending off the Brad Pitt-led baseball flick and three other newcomers -- 'Dolphin Tale,' 'Abduction,' and 'Killer Elite.'
Still, it was a close game. Studio estimates put 'Lion King' just $1.5 million ahead of 'Moneyball,' which, in turn, was just $300,000 ahead of 'Dolphin Tale.' In fact, the game may have to go into extra innings (meaning, we may have to wait until final figures are released Monday) before a clear ranking of first, second and third place becomes apparent.
'Lion King' had been expected to drop about 40 percent from last weekend's 3D debut, to about $17 or $18 million, given the family-audience competition from 'Dolphin Tale.' But it slipped just 27 percent after having dominated the box office all week. In 10 days, the re-release has earned $61.7 million. Over its lifetime, the 1994 Disney classic has earned $390.2 million in North American theaters and a worldwide total of $858.1 million, making it the top hand-drawn animated movie of all-time and the third highest-grossing animated feature ever.
'Moneyball' had been expected to win the weekend with around $18 or $19 million, so despite its second-place finish, its $20.6 million take is actually better than expected. Brad Pitt can usually open a movie to the tune of about $24 million, but there were fears that a movie largely about baseball statistics might seem dry and esoteric to mass audiences. Nonetheless, the film earned some of the best reviews of the year for a wide-release movie, even drumming up Oscar buzz for Pitt. It's also the highest-grossing opening ever for a movie about baseball, outscoring 2006's 'The Benchwarmers' ($19.7 million).
'Dolphin Tale' also outperformed predictions, which were in the $14 to $16 million range. Credit its $20.3 million finish to better-than-expected reviews, excellent word-of-mouth, a release pattern that included many 3D screens and a targeted marketing campaign that focused on religious moviegoers and families that home-school their kids.
Opening in fourth place with an estimated $11.2 million (a bit lower than predictions of $12 to $13 million), 'Abduction' continued to prove that the 'Twilight' franchise stars are risky box office draws in movies that don't feature sparkly vampires and shirtless werewolves. Granted, Taylor Lautner goes shirtless in this teen spy thriller often enough to put the abs in 'Abduction,' but the movie's strong word-of-mouth among teen girls was not enough to overcome almost unanimously negative reviews.
Besides, it had competition for the action/thriller crowd from 'Killer Elite,' which opened in fifth place with an estimated $9.5 million. That's about what was expected, even though the movie boasts the star power of Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro. Despite being loosely based on a true story (and not on the Sam Peckinpah film 'The Killer Elite'), a movie in which Statham plays an assassin seeking payback probably seemed a little too been-there-done-that for action moviegoers. Mediocre pre-release buzz kept the movie from opening even as high as Statham's similar 'The Mechanic' ($11.4 million) from a few months ago.
The full top 10:
1. 'The Lion King,' $22.1 million (2,330 screens), $61.7 million total
2. 'Moneyball,' $20.6 million (2,993), new release
3. 'Dolphin Tale,' $20.3 million (3,507), new release
4. 'Abduction,' $11.2 million (3,118), new release
5. 'Killer Elite,' $9.5 million (2,986), new release
6. 'Contagion,' $8.5 million (3,136), $57.1 million
7. 'Drive,' $5.8 million (2,904), $21.4 million
8. 'The Help,' $4.4 million (2,695), $154.4 million
9. 'Straw Dogs,' $2.10 million (2,408), $8.9 million
10. 'I Don't Know How She Does It,' $2.05 million (2,490), $8.0 million
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.
Photo credits: Disney ('The Lion King'), Sony Pictures ('Moneyball'), Warner Bros. ('Dolphin Tale'), Lionsgate ('Abduction'), Open Road ('Killer Elite')
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