By Gabe Toro | The Playlist September 25, 2011 at 4:35AM
"Hakuna Matata!" proclaims Disney, discovering what amounts to an entirely new revenue stream. “The Lion King 3D” has taken the crown decisively for the second straight weekend with $22 million, amidst some otherwise heavy fall competition that was a lot buzzier and, without a doubt, more expensive. The original plan was to play the film for two weeks, but after ten days, it’s been far and away the biggest movie attraction, and the film will be extending its stay at the multiplexes which could add nearly $40 million to the coffers.
Studios are trying to cut back on extravagant expenses, and what could be more cost-effective than paying to convert existing movies to 3D, advertise and release them on 2500 screens, and count profit? Disney is in a better position that other studios, having the advantage of the mysterious “vault” that houses past animated classics, only released to the marketplace every few years, like imprisoned delinquents unleashed on a playground. It’s not hard to see a future where studios release far fewer films per year, relying on the cheap 3D-ification of past titles for the majority of their profits.
Baseball is the subject matter of very few box office hits, but Sony pretty much hit what they were aiming for with this weekend's $20.6 million haul for “Moneyball.” For Pitt, this falls somewhere between "Burn After Reading" and “The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button,” both of which had considerable legs, and given the very strong critical response and likely good word of mouth, the studio is hoping they can repeat last year's "The Social Network" which wound up sticking around for astonishing 22 weeks in theaters thanks to Oscar buzz.
While, Pitt is still carrying a movie not about baseball but about statistics -- a fact that Sony somewhat proudly didn’t hide in their pricey marketing campaign -- with Jonah Hill in a serious role, and a somber, almost elegiac tone that screams ADULTS ONLY, the key will be finding a way to get younger audiences involved. A factor the Facebook movie had by default. Still, the previous biggest opener for a baseball movie was “The Benchwarmers,” and that’s just disgraceful.
After weeks of strong audience tracking, “Dolphin Tale” opened well, and just a shade under the much more expensive “Moneyball.” “Dolphin Tale” arrived in theaters where there is a current dearth of family entertainment -- another big reason why 'Lion King' has been cleaning up -- and the inoffensive ad campaign enticed those looking for something innocuous to pass the time. It looks like parents and kids who caught up with Simba last week opted to take a swim this film this weekend.
As for “Abduction” and “The Killer Elite,” it seems audiences were not in the mood for run-of-the-mill action movies. The Taylor Lautner starring “Abduction” opened somewhat weaker than the mainstream efforts of his fellow “Twilight” stars, and a lukewarm audience reception suggests that this could struggle to hit $30 million total, a very weak number that's in line with recent Lionsgate flops “Conan The Barbarian” and “Warrior.” Moreover, it casts doubt on the future of Taylor Lautner as a leading man as the young thesp has spent the last year being groomed as the next big action star. The industry has now been burned twice with pre-anointing their next muscle ripped heroes (please see Jason Momoa) so if you don't hear anything about "Stretch Armstrong" for the next little while, don't be too surprised. And we will have all lived a much fuller life.
“The Killer Elite,” meanwhile, was a bummer for newbie distributors Open Road, who got the project in Cannes and slept on the marketing (why they unveiled the much more effective red-band trailer one day before its release is beyond us). This single digit opening weekend falls on the low end of Jason Statham openers, and further confirms that Clive Owen is completely invisible to modern audiences. Open Road was able to purchase the domestic rights on the cheap, but people notice when a movie costs $70 million plus and can't crack eight figures in its opening weekend.
In weekend three, “Contagion” continues to flash some strong gams, approaching $60 million, a number the film should hit by mid-week. Warner Bros. has to be somewhat pleased, though with those stars attached, the expectations are usually higher. While the film stayed above “Drive,” that picture’s second frame maintained steady ground despite the rocky audience reception, and is well on its way to a decent theatrical life and solid ancillaries. Megahit “The Help” boasted the lowest percentage drop in the top ten aside from “The Lion King 3D,” and sticks around in the top ten. And look out below, as “I Don’t Know How She Does It” and “Straw Dogs” backed up the rear in their journey towards being forgotten forever.
In limited release, a couple of A-Listers clashed in smaller, social-issue movies. Gerard Butler looks like the winner, with "Machine Gun Preacher" debuting to $44k on four screens. Chris Evans' legal drama "Puncture" also opened at four locations, but could only gross $35.7k. The week's biggest specialty release was "Thunder Soul," which grossed $55.8k, but that was on thirty five screens, a less-than-muscular per-screen average. In other music doc news, "Pearl Jam: Twenty" pulled in $89k at nine locations. The biggest average of the week went to romantic drama "Weekend," which logged $25k at its single NYC location, with an expansion coming soon.
Continuing to expand, and already the most successful limited release of the season so far, is "Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain." A minor expansion into 287 screens allowed the film to post an almost negligible audience drop from weekend two, and with $1.2 million this weekend, the picture has totaled $5.2 million in only three weekends. "My Afternoons With Margueritte" posted a decent second weekend hold, expanding from two to twenty nine theaters, collecting $77k, while "Incendiary" debuted with a single screen take of $6.2k, a little under the on-screen $9k take of "Limelight." "The Mill And The Cross" grabbed a solid second weekend gross, with $17k on five screens and a two week total of $39k. Support your local arthouse theaters, boys and girls.
1. The Lion King 3D (Disney) -- $22.1 million ($63 mil.)
2. Stats 'N Bats (Sony) -- $20.6 million
3. Dolphin Tale (Warner Bros.) -- $20.3 million
4. Wolf Boy Chase (Lionsgate) -- $11.2 million
5. The Killer Elite (Open Road) -- $9.5 million
6. Contagion (Warner Bros.) -- $8.5 million ($57 mil.)
7. Vroom (FilmDistrict) -- $5.8 million ($22 mil.)
8. White Savior Saves All (Disney) -- $4.4 million ($155 mil.)
9. Straw Dogs (Sony) -- $2.1 million ($9 mil.)
10. I Don’t Know How She Does it, But It's Probably Black Magic (Weinstein Company) - $2 million ($8 mil.)
(all total domestic grosses so far)