Walt Disney's 3-D re-release of 1994's hand-drawn animated box office champ The Lion King raked the competition this weekend with a shocking $29.3 million gross, fending off three adult choices including FilmDistrict's critically acclaimed action noir Drive, which fueled $11 million, Sony-Screen Gems' Straw Dogs, which fed off scraps at $5 million and Weinstein Co.'s Sarah Jessica Parker romcom I Don't Know How She Does It at $4.5 million.
What's jawdropping about The Lion King 3D is that the studio's other re-releases over the last 15 years yielded so-so results. The 1997 re-issue of The Little Mermaid grossed $27.2 million in its entire run -- close to what Lion King pulled in this weekend. It proves yet again the reigning popularity of Lion King, especially when it outstrips the 2009 3-D re-release of another beloved animated property, Pixar's Toy Story/Toy Story 2 ($12.5 million opening and a $30.7 million for its run) and even its own 2002 release in 66 IMAX locations, which minted $15.7 million. This release was boosted by a new generation of millenials who'd never seen Lion King on the big screen, but relished it on DVD or via the Julie Taymor stage musical. For them, it's a fresh experience, much like the 1997 Star Wars re-issues were for the Y Generation.
Disney also broke the rules by converting a hand-drawn classic to 3-D. Warner Bros. mounted limited 3D IMAX runs of Superman Returns and some Harry Potter chapters. However, Disney's Lion King, which started out with many digital components, actually looks beautiful. During the '70s and '80s, Disney made a bread and butter business out of re-releasing animated classics, but as the VHS business swelled, so did Mouse House release strategies. The 3-D-ization of old toons could resurrect Disney's age-old business formula.
In terms of the future of formatting toon classics into 3D, Disney distrib head David Hollis says that "there has to be a judiciousness in terms of how often we apply this. We are fortunate to have access to an amazing library." The first item on Disney distribution's schedule tomorrow morning is figuring out if they can get exhibitors to extend the film's two week run. 92% of the gross was repped by 3D -- astounding for a film that pulled in 74% families. 59% were under 25 while females repped 56%.
Film District's Drive was the strongest of the new entries thanks to its high octane 92% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score, but audiences snubbed Nicolas Winding Refn's violent fusion of Michael Mann and Abel Ferrara with a C- Cinemascore. It looks like media hype from Cannes and LA Film fest through Toronto yielded an adult crowd 75% of the audience over 25, who were likely unprepared for the film's ultra-violence. Presumably word-of-mouth will catch up with folks under 25 and Quentin Tarantino fans, who will need to show up to keep Drive in moving along.
"I have to believe that Cinemascore is not an accurate representation of the target audience -- younger males and cinephiles -- and their reaction," said FilmDistrict distribution guru Bob Berney, "From all the reactions I've seen at festivals and theaters and the fact that we were up 11% on Saturday, I don't buy it. While I'm not down on Cinemascore, its polling might be applicable for mainstream audiences." Adds Berney, "I think people are discovering Refn the same way they discovered Tarantino years ago. Moviegoers are really responding to the director, which doesn't happen often."
FilmDistrict was avant-garde in its campaign, selling Drive as an elevated genre film, not some Fast & Furious knock-off.
Even after the success of Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker is not America's marquee sweetheart. After Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts rocketed into a must-see movie star. The opening for I Don't Know How is lower than her 2009 clunker Did Your Hear About the Morgans? ($6.6 million bow, $29.6 million cume). Older women are her core demo, marking 75% of the audience, with 80% over 25. 60% of the crowd was over 35. Here's what we do know about I Don't Know How: guys who detested the romantic comedy based on Brit Allison Pearson's bestseller weighed down its B- CinemaScore. "Our exit polls show that women really love this film with definite recommends in the 70s. The norm is 50. With nothing coming out for women in the next few weeks, hopefully they will find this film," declared Weinstein Co. distrib chief Erik Lomis.
Straw Dogs director Rod Lurie knew he was playing with fire before he even yelled "Action" on the set of his remake of the 1972 Sam Peckinpah cult classic. With its sexy cast of Kate Bosworth and True Blood baddie Alexander Skarsgard, Screen Gems assumed that kids would be drawn to it like fireflies to light, however mostly older females (51%) showed up, 54% over 25. Straw Dogs remained stuck in the dog house this weekend partly because, as Todd McCarthy suggested in the Hollywood Reporter, "Many remakes are quite bad, the main reason being that, assuming the original was good enough to inspire an encore, it's difficult to make lightning strike twice, to reconstitute a positive creative dynamic in concert with a new cultural zeitgeist that will forge a strong audience response." While True Grit proved that remakes can work brilliantly, you need auteurs like the Coen Brothers or even Martin Scorsese (Cape Fear) to do them justice.
Top 10 Box Office Chart
1. The Lion King 3D (Disney) $29.3 million in its first weekend at 2,330 theaters. $12,575 theater average. Domestic total: $29.3 million.
2. Contagion (Warner Bros.) $14.5 million down 35% in its second weekend at 3,222 theaters. $4,494 theater average. Domestic total: $44.2 million.
3. Drive (FilmDistrict) $11 million in its first weekend at 2,886 theaters. $3,818 theater average. Domestic total: $11 million.
4. The Help (Disney/DreamWorks) $6.438 million down 28% in its sixth weekend at 3,014 theaters. $2,136 theater average. Domestic total: $147.4 million.
5. Straw Dogs (Sony/Screen Gems) $5 million in its first weekend at 2,408 theaters. $2,076 theater average. Domestic total: $5 million.
6. I Don't Know How She Does It (Weinstein) $4.5 million in its first weekend at 2,476 theaters. $1,818 theater average. Domestic total: $4.5 million.
7. The Debt (Focus Features) $2.945 million down 38% in its third weekend at 1,831 theaters. $1,609 theater average.Domestic total: $26.5 million.
8. Warrior (Lionsgate) $2.77 million down 47% in its second weekend at 1,883 theaters. $1,471 theater average. Domestic total: $9.9 million.
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Fox) $2.625 million down 32% in its seventh weekend at 2,340 theaters. $1,122 theater average. Domestic total: $171.6 million.
10. Colombiana (Tri-Star/Sony) $2.3 million down 41% in its fourth weekend at 1,933 theaters. $1,190 theater average. Domestic total $33.3 million.