Weekend Box Office: Dolphin Tale Overcomes Weak New Releases To Finish #1

September is a month where studios flood the market with new movies. Some do it as a means to get a product off its books without shelving it as a direct-to-video release. Others look to capitalize after the summer season with titles that look to attract older viewers. Which is why we had films like Contagion and Moneyball. But with so many movies competing for box-office dollars it causes over-saturation that the market can’t withstand. Last month had 18 new releases open in 1500 or more theaters; only a third of that number managed to surpass $30 million. And one of those was an animated classic entering theaters for the first time in seventeen years (The Lion King).

The other film direct for kid audiences, Dolphin Tale, got some great word of mouth after its release last weekend to see it rise from third position to first place. Benefiting from 3D tickets, the film has matched its $37 million production budget in two weeks time and should continue to find more success in the coming weeks. Its lowest per-week drop in the top ten is a good indicator. But with Real Steel opening this coming weekend, kids might be willing to forgo a trip to sea world and go to robot land instead.

The Lion King still managed a double digit gross of $11 million despite Dolphin Tale‘s success. Not bad considering that its Blu-ray release (both in 3D and 2D) arrives in stores on Tuesday. Still, if Simba manages to eek out $100 million before its run and finish in the top 30 of 2011 releases, what does that say about the other crop of films studios spent millions on producing and advertising.

Moneyball holds strong in its second week. Friday night MLB playoffs didn’t seem to disrupt its box office take all that much. It’s getting tons of buzz from critics and bloggers alike, and the adult demographic seems to be game to see it. Whispers of Oscar (Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, et al.) should also improve its chances of being around in the top ten for several more weeks.

50/50, the off-beat dramedy dealing with cancer, was smartly marketed by Summit Entertainment as a strong comedy and didn’t hide the cancer side of the story. It may be the least successful opening ($8.9 million) for a film where Seth Rogen is the lead or big supporting star, but it was a passion project for Rogen and his friend Will Reiser, whose screenplay about dealing with cancer is semi-autobiographical. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to show his range as the fill in to original lead James McAvoy. The film would have probably done the same business regardless who was in the cancer-stricken role.

The big success story in this weekend’s top ten is Courageous, the Christian-themed pic that has been heavily marketed to church groups nationwide. Released three years after Fireproof, another Christian-themed pic that found major success, the film managed to bring in $8.8 million despite playing on less than 1200 screens. The next few weeks should be interesting if the film can generate millions. If it makes in the area of $40 million, don’t be surprised if other studio execs slide into Sunday services to see how they can attract this audience.

Poor Daniel Craig. When he isn’t James Bond audiences could care less. After Cowboys & Aliens failed to become the summer blockbuster Universal Pictures was expecting, here is Craig again with Dream House, a haunted house thriller that is flopping big time. $8.2 million on 2600 screens is not a promising start. So far the best thing to come out of Dream House is that Craig would marry his co-star, Rachel Weisz, ultimately leaving filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Weisz’s ex) to eat crow with a slice of Pi.

The weakest debut this weekend was the Anna Faris comedy What’s Your Number? which opened on 3000 screens. Restricted comedies were a big success at the start of the summer, before they petered out after June. What’s Your Number? was another R-rated comedy that could have easily been PG-13 with a few tweaks if the studio had insisted. Take out a side boob there, bottom of the crotch there and a number of F— bombs by some incorrigible children and you’re almost to PG-13 territory. The marketing could have played up Chris Evans after his Captain America success, but instead tried to have Faris be the main draw. The bad news is that she is somewhere between Kate Hudson and Katherine Heigl in terms of the go-to gal for romantic comedies. This is despite her being the most talented of all three. But she isn’t all that known outside of the Scary Movie franchise and The House Bunny. Maybe she’ll get a sizable boost in visibility starring opposite Sacha Baron Cohen in next year’s The Dictator.

Action pictures Abduction and Killer Elite take a sizable slide down the list and should be popping up in a Redbox near you by January. In between them was Contagion as it looks to finish up its run. It should have more week in the top ten before it leaves. Not a super blockbuster, but at least Warner Bros. is priming the viewers for films like Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar and the Sherlock Holmes sequel.

Turning to limited releases, the big opening was Take Shelter, which grossed $56k from three theaters. What was supposed to arrive close to six years ago, Margaret was unceremoniously dumped into theaters by Fox Searchlight. It managed $7.5k at two locations. The documentary Finding Joe about the Joseph Campbell hero’s journey made a solid $9.6k on one screen.
Then there’s the anemic six-theater opening for Sarah Palin – You Betcha! which actually made less than Margaret with $7.4k at six locations.

1. Dolphin Tale – $14.2 million ($37.5 million)
2. Moneyball – $12.5 million ($38.5 million)
3. The Lion King 3D – $11 million ($80 million)
4. 50/50 – $8.9 million
5. Courageous – $8.8 million
6. Dream House – $8.2 million
7. Abduction – $5.7 million ($19 million)
8. What’s Your Number? – $5.6 million
9. Contagion – $5 million ($65 million)
10. Killer Elite – $4.9 million ($17 million)

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