Box Office: Lion King Takes Lion’s Share Of Earnings, Drive Cruises To 3rd Place

Right now the big wigs at Disney are either giving themselves high-fives or they are palm-slapping their foreheads wondering why haven’t we been doing this all along? Re-releasing The Lion King into theaters isn’t a novel concept. Actually, Disney has re-released a number of their animated classics into theaters (my first movie theater experience was watching The Jungle Book back in 1984; it was also released in 1990). The question remains if The Lion King‘s $29 million weekend was an aberration. Prior to its re-release the biggest re-release to grace cinema screens was the special edition of Star Wars in 1997 (you know, the one where Han DOESN’T shoot first). What it likely means is a new revenue stream – re-release classics in 3-D! That may explain why studios are considering 3-D conversions of Ghost Busters and Top Gun.

But if you take the 3-D surcharges out of the box office equation, would a studio be willing to re-release a standard 2-D movie with just a new video transfer and spruced up audio? Instead of just using DVD and Blu-ray to market a film’s anniversary, how about a two-week long engagement in theaters. Imagine films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather (it does turn 40 next year), or James Cameron’s pre-Avatar films like Aliens and Titanic (a 3-D re-release is in the works).

Slipping to second place this weekend was Contagion. Losing 35% of its first-week audience – probably because they were taking their kids to Lion King – it’s still keeping a majority of adult viewers. Until the big Oscar-type releases come forward, Contagion will reap the benefit as the new adult alternative for those who have already seen The Help and weren’t all that thrilled to see the Cold War thriller The Debt.

Cruising to third place was Drive, FilmDistrict’s artistic genre picture. Considering that the film had a $13 million budget, its $11 million opening was a good start. Granted, audiences were probably expecting something in the vein of Fast Five because it had a driver and cars. With such expectation a C- Cinemascore shouldn’t be a surprise. Though, having seen it at two different screenings prior to last Friday’s release, I can assure you that I didn’t hear a C- reaction.

The Help is slowing down but is still cleaning up in terms of box office. It is just a few million away from $150 million. Viola Davis is almost assured an Oscar nomination (it depends if Disney pushes her for lead or supporting), and Emma Stone is going to get another career bounce.

Whenever Screen Gems introduces a new thriller into the marketplace it’s usually a first or second-place finisher. So what happened with Straw Dogs? It all starts with its ambiguous title. It’s not like The Roommate, The Stepfather, or Prom Night, all Screen Gems, cheap thrill releases that are easily discernible. The fact that its title refers to an old Chinese proverb just makes it that much more confusing. James Marsden and Kate Bosworth as your leads didn’t help one iota, and even True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgard only goes so far. At least fans of James Woods got to see him on the big screen again. He hasn’t been in a theatrical release since 2008’s An American Carol.

Instead of I Don’t Know How She Does It, The Weinstein Company should have it as What the Hell Were We Thinking? What a bomb for the Brothers ‘Stein. It just goes to prove that whatever fairy dust Sarah Jessica Parker had leftover from Sex and the City is now gone. So now the Weinstein Company has been unsuccessful with making hits out of Apollo 18, Spy Kids 4, Scream 4 and now this. On the plus side it did have Our Idiot Brother, a cheapie that won’t even pass $25 million domestic.

The MMA drama Warrior, sadly, looks to be a forgotten film at the cineplex. Despite good reviews and audience response, it lost 47% of its opening week audience, putting it behind The Debt, that above mentioned thriller that’s trying to hold the attention spans of mature viewers as it shoots for $30 million by next weekend. With losing crowds to Contagion, it looks like any dark horse Oscar shots for Warrior are all but extinguished – unless Lionsgate goes screener heavy hoping people remember Nick Nolte’s performance.

Those damn dirty apes are hard to kill and harder to get out of the top ten. Rise of the Planet of the Apes finished its seventh weekend in the top ten and it has raked in $391 million worldwide since its early August bow. And the Luc Besson-produced actioneer Columbiana rounds out the top ten. While it is at $33 million now, it’s major success will come on DVD and Blu-ray.

In limited release, Gus Van Sant’s Restless dropped on five screens and grossed $17k. Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain, which is profiled in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly (the one with Brad Pitt on the cover) continues to be the big success story. The comedian’s doc made $1.1 million on only 230 screens. In two weeks it has made $3.6 million; not bad for a film that cost less than $50k to make. In terms of expansion, Vera Farmiga’s Higher Ground added 25 screens to add $120k to its total. Higher Ground has made $470k in two weeks.

1. The Lion King 3D – $29.3 million
2. Contagion – $14.5 million ($44 million)
3. Drive – $11 million
4. The Help – $6.4 million ($147 million)
5. Straw Dogs – $5 million
6. I Don’t Know How She Does It – $4.5 million
7. The Debt – $2.9 million ($27 million)
8. Warrior – $2.8 million ($10 million)
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – $2.6 million ($391 million worldwide)
10. Columbiana – $2.5 million ($33 million)

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