09/25/2011 05:04 pm ET | Updated Nov 25, 2011

Weekend Box Office: Moneyball Sets Record for Baseball Pic, Comes in Second to Lion King 3D Anyway. Taylor Lautner's Abduction and Statham's Killer Elite Open Low

 Defying even the most optimistic of predictions, The Lion King 3D (HERE for the film's big not-so-fatal flaw) repeated at the top of the box office this weekend.  The shockingly popular 3D-converted re-release dropped just 26% in its second weekend, grossing $22.1 million in what was allegedly the last weekend of its 'limited engagement'.  I cannot imagine Disney not keeping this one in theaters until it plays out naturally, as we could easily be looking at a $100 million domestic total for the refurbished 17-year-old cartoon.  The Lion King 3D now has $61.6 million, giving the film a $389 million domestic total.  Once it gets past $67 million, it will surpass the 1997 re-release of The Empire Strikes Back and become the second-biggest re-release of all time, behind the $137 million gross of Star Wars: Special Edition.

Unless Disney does pull the movie next Friday, it should pass $400 million at the end of next weekend, putting it within spitting distance of the $410 million domestic total of Toy Story 3.  The $441 million domestic total for Shrek 2 seems out of reach for the moment, but we'll know for sure by the end of next weekend.  Again, there is no reason to assume that every 3D-converted rerelease coming down the pike in the next year will perform like this one, anymore than other nationwide anniversary re-releases were expected to match the astonishing 1997 Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition roll outs (HERE for a review of the Star Wars Blu Ray set).  Considering this release was basically a glorified advertisement for the October 4th Blu Ray release, Disney is basically pulling pure profit on this one.

Coming in at second place, but with no cause for shame, was Sony's Moneyball (review).  The well-reviewed Brad Pitt vehicle grossed a solid $20.6 million, which gives it the biggest opening weekend ever for a movie about baseball.  The film scored an A from Cinemascore across all demos.  The picture played 51% male and 64% over-35.  The latter stat makes its opening even more impressive (older audiences don't generally rush out to opening weekend) and its long-term legs that much more likely (as the word of mouth bleeds down to younger demos).  Like an old-fashioned adult drama, the film pulled a weekend multiplier of over 3.0x, something that rarely happens in this day and age.  Unless the film completely collapses for reasons unknown, Brad Pitt is (deservedly) guaranteed to receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination, and he is quickly looking like one of the front-runners to win.  As for its chances in other major Oscar categories (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, etc), the final gross will determine its fate.  Anything over $60 million makes it a likely nominee, anything over $75 million arguably makes it a lock (Pitt's huge international appeal will make this a boon overseas as well).  Regardless, this is EXACTLY the kind of film we all claim we want from the studios: mid-budget (about $50 million), star and character-driven dramas aimed at adults.  It may have been put in turnaround at the last minute two years ago (see me whine about it HERE), but Sony eventually did the right thing and will profit accordingly.

The other solid opening for the weekend went to Dolphin Tale, a true-life drama about an injured dolphin and its (I presume) eventual recovery.  Without the unexpected success of The Lion King 3D, this one would likely have won the weekend derby.  But Warner Bros. will have to 'settle' for a terrific $20.2 million opening for this well-reviewed $37 million family drama.  The film polled an A+ from Cinemascore, which of course only means something if the film opened well in the first place.  The legs on this one will be somewhat dependent on the continued strength of The Lion King, as well as the opening muscle of Real Steel on October 7th (a, um... Hugh Jackman robot-boxing drama that is being heavily sold to the family market).  Regardless, Dolphin Tale, which sold 50% of its tickets in 3D, will easily recoup its money by the end of next weekend, with overseas and the eventual family DVD market resulting in big profits.

The other two wide openers were pure action pictures, and they both debuted with relatively middling results.  Lionsgate's Abduction opened with $11.2 million.  The film was primarily an action vehicle for Taylor Lautner as well as a test of his drawing power.  While $11.2 million for an action picture isn't uber-impressive on its own, Lautner is arguably responsible for every single ticket sold this weekend.  The film received horrible reviews and advance word let action-junkies know that it was a soft PG-13 (thus defeating my reason for wanting to see it).  So if you bought a ticket to Abduction, you did so because you like Taylor Lautner (or are dating someone who does).  The John Singleton thriller cost just $36 million, so it will probably break even somewhere down the road.  There are two things worth noting: First of all, this opening is about on par with the $12.3 million opening of Zac Efron's Charlie St. Cloud and above the $8 million opening for Robert Pattinson's Remember Me, although an action thriller is arguably a more mainstream attraction than the latter two romantic dramas.  Second of all, and connected to the first thought, Taylor Lautner's biggest threat to longterm bank-ability is falling into the same trap as Patrick Swayze.  Swayze's two massive hits were Dirty Dancing and Ghost, both of which were romantic dramas.  Yet Swayze (or his agent?) insisted on doing a whole bunch of low-rent action pictures (Road House, Next of Kin, etc), which turned off the primarily female audience that turned him into an icon in the first place.  Lautner is known as a romantic hero of sorts, so his repeated dabbling in similarly low-rent action pictures could be a long-term problem.  We'll see...

The final opener was The Killer Elite.  The Jason Statham/Clive Owen/Robert De Niro action drama pulled in the standard-for-Statham $9.5 million (he generally averages $9-12 million for his action vehicles).  The good news is that this was the first movie from Open Road Films, so a halfway decent debut on the first time should be noted.  The bad news is that the film cost $70 million!!  Open Road picked this up and is only on the hook for marketing costs, but someone somewhere is going to take a bath on this one.  Since breaking out with The Transporter back in 2002, Jason Statham has of course made his name as 'the last action hero'.  But he has yet to find that big project that (perhaps temporarily) lifts him to the A-list, his Under Siege if you will.  The film will do the normal Statham $20-25 million and be on DVD in 90 days, where I will happily rent it (HERE for tips on how not to get killed by Jason Statham).

This article continues HERE.

Scott Mendelson