Just as it did 17 years ago when the original version first hit theaters, the new updated conversion The Lion King 3D opened in first place ruling the North American box office. Doubling industry expectations, the Disney smash grossed more than the weekend’s three other new films combined. The action drama Drive generated a moderate debut in third while the thriller Straw Dogs and the comedy I Don’t Know How She Does It both failed to excite moviegoing audiences.
Families charged into theaters and had no problem paying higher ticket prices driving The Lion King 3D to number one with an estimated $29.3M making it the fifth best September debut of all time. Averaging a spectacular $12,575 from only 2,330 theaters, the G-rated upgrade of the highest-grossing hand-drawn toon of all time sparked nostalgia in parents allowing Disney to reach a whole new generation. The two-week-only run precedes the October 4 release of the film on Blu-ray 3D but plenty of people were willing to go out and experience the new version on the big screen. Studio research showed that King played to an audience that was 56% female and 59% 25 and under. The opening weekend average beat out those for recent 3D kidpics like Kung Fu Panda 2, Rio, and The Smurfs.
Simba and pals outdid the $12.5M opening of Disney’s 3D upgrade on the double feature of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 which opened in October 2009 ahead of the following summer’s third installment in 3D which became the top-grossing movie of 2010. Despite home video availability, the Mouse House has found success in giving 3D upgrades to top animated films in its library and releasing them as special theatrical events. With a first class brand and no major competition for kids, Lion King connected with its target audience and generated true excitement which helped the numbers soar. The original film bowed to $40.9M in June 1994 (the largest opening that year) when the average ticket price was only $4.17.
The virus thriller Contagion enjoyed a solid second weekend grossing an estimated $14.5M falling just 35% in its sophomore frame. The Warner Bros. release has taken in $44.2M in its first ten days and looks headed for a $80M finish.
Ryan Gosling’s critically acclaimed crime drama Drive opened in third place with an estimated $11M from an aggressive 2,886 theater launch for a mild $3,818 average. While critics fell in love with the violent R-rated pic, paying audiences on Friday were unhappy with what they saw giving it a disturbing C- CinemaScore grade. FilmDistrict marketed Drive with trailers and TV spots that promised a fast-paced high octane thrill ride. But ticket buyers were surprised when what they got was a slow-paced drama with few car chases. The road ahead is uncertain as word-of-mouth will spread from two opposing camps – those disappointed that they didn’t get what they expected and those who enjoy daring cinema with slower European sensibilities. Danish helmer Nicolas Winding Refn won the best director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for Drive.
Sleeper sensation The Help followed in fourth with an estimated $6.4M, down 28%, for a $147.4M cume. The Disney release will break through the $150M barrier in the next week as it continues to display strong legs now becoming the only film in 2011 to spend six weekends in the Top 5.
The weekend’s two other new releases were rejected by moviegoers. The James Marsden-Kate Bosworth thriller Straw Dogs debuted to an estimated $5M from 2,408 locations for a wimpy $2,076 average for Sony. Females made up 51% of the audience while 54% were 25 or older. Sarah Jessica Parker’s new comedy I Don’t Know How She Does It failed to pull in fans of the book with an estimated $4.5M bow from 2,476 theaters resulting in a pathetic $1,818 average for The Weinstein Co. Critics panned both films.
Dropping 38% to an estimated $2.9M was The Debt which has grossed $26.5M to date for Focus. The well-reviewed action drama Warrior collected an estimated $2.8M, off 47%, for a disappointing $9.9M ten-day sum for Lionsgate. Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes fared well again dipping 33% to an estimated $2.6M while Sony’s Colombiana declined by 42% to an estimated $2.3M. Totals stand at $171.6M and $33.3M.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $81.4M which was off 4% from last year when The Town opened in the top spot with $23.8M; and down 2% from 2009 when Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs debuted at number one with $30.3M.