Weekend Box Office – Hear Him Roar. THE LION KING 3D Takes in $29.3 Million

     September 18, 2011

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After seeing the movie modifier ‘3D’ lose almost all of its cache over the past year or so, who knew that an animated re-issue with that three dimensional makeover could roar this loud at the box office?  Doubling even the most sanguine early projections, Disney’s The Lion King 3D took in an estimated $29.3 million this weekend from its 2,330 (mostly 3D) locations to become this weekend’s undisputed box office ruler.

Title Weekend Total
1 The Lion King 3D $29,300,000 $29.3
2 Contagion $14,500,000 $44.2
3 Drive $11,000,000 $11
4 The Help $6,400,000 $147.3
5 Straw Dogs $5,000,000 $5
6 I Don’t Know How She Does It $4,500,000 $4.5
7 The Debt $2,945,000 $26.5
8 Warrior $2,770,000 $9.9
9 Rise of the Planet of the Apes $2,625,000 $171.6
10 Colombiana $2,300,000 $33.3

lion-king-3d-imageIt’s safe to say that, before Friday, few box office watchers had much of an idea how this weekend’s box office would play out.  Unlike a week ago, when one film received the lion’s share of the early buzz, this frame had multiple variables that thwarted an easy prediction.  Chief among those, the film that is currently at number one: The Lion King 3D.

Back in June of 1994 The Lion King earned an enormous $40.8 million on its first (wide) weekend in theatres.  That equals approximately $62.3 million adjusted for inflation or more than some of this summer’s big comic book titles made in their own debuts.  Eventually, The Lion King took in over $300 million in the US alone; making it the undisputed king of animation for nearly a decade, until computer generated toons like Shrek and Finding Nemo began to hit their strides.  Even with the high tech competition, however, The Lion King remained in animation’s all-time top five, aided by a 2002 IMAX re-issue and, now, its three dimensional rebirth.

Even with this regal heritage, for most observers The Lion King 3D was not a lock to win this weekend’s top spot.  In October 2009, the 3D reissue of Toy Story/Toy Story 2 came in below expectations (mine among them) with $12.4 million from 1,745 locations.  And although Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a blockbuster in September ’09 with over $30 million, last fall’s 3D toons had trouble getting to half that amount; which explains why most people settled on $15 million for this weekend’s return of The Lion King.

Assuming that The Lion King was not re-enthroned, Contagion looked like it had a good chance of retaining the top spot for a second weekend.  After opening to a better than expected $22.4 million one week ago, the pandemic thriller played to solid weekday numbers.  Though its estimated $14.5 million was ultimately not enough to get close to number one, Contagion did enjoy an excellent hold of 64% in its sophomore frame.

Ryan-Gosling-Drive-movie-imageIn a week of box office wildcards, the final factor which made picking this weekend’s winner a challenge was the film Drive.  The R-rated actioner from FimDistrict scored some of the best reviews of the year (93% on Rotten Tomatoes) and had built-up undeniable buzz on the internet.  Of course, online excitement does not always translate into mass market success, as you can see from Drive’s debut.  From 2,886 locations the film scored an estimated $11 million.  While that’s not an awful start, it certainly wasn’t close to enough to for a first place finish (as some predicted).

Unlike Drive, no box office watchers imagined a boffo launch for the weekend’s final two new titles, Straw Dogs and I Don’t Know How She Does It.  With both the Screen Gems’ thriller and the Weinstein comedy launching in over 2,400 locations, neither reached the very modest $6 million platform that was expected.

At this point, it looks like next weekend will be just as difficult to safely predict.  Four new releases are set to go wide including the family-friendly Dolphin Tale, Taylor Lautner in Abduction and the long awaited adaptation of MoneyballDolphin Tale has the largest theatre count; but the success of The Lion King 3D may have lured some of its audience away.  And trying to bet on what will happen with Moneyball has always been a losing proposition…

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