Brad Pitt 'Moneyball' Tops Friday, 'The Lion King 3D' to Top Weekend

Chris Pratt, MoneyballBennett Miller's baseball drama Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Robin Wright, collected $6.75 million at the North American box office on Friday, Sept. 23, according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo. [Photo: Chris Pratt.]

One of the best reviewed releases of the year, Moneyball opened with a solid – though hardly outstanding – figure for an “adult” movie. For comparison's sake: at about the same time last year, David Fincher's widely acclaimed The Social Network took in $8 million on opening day, while Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which was greeted by mixed reviews, collected $6.9 million.

Comparing Moneyball to Dennis Dugan's 2006 baseball flick The Benchwarmers, which went on to gross $59 million domestically (and very little abroad) doesn't sound fair, as the latter is a low-brow comedy. Comparisons to Phil Alden Robinson's Oscar-nominated 1989 drama Field of Dreams wouldn't work either, as Robinson's baseball movie starring Kevin Costner debuted at only 22 theaters.

Moneyball was written by The Social Network's Aaron Sorkin and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Steven Zaillian, from a “story” by Stan Chervin based on Michael Lewis' book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. In addition to Brad Pitt, Robin Wright, and Chris Pratt, Moneyball also features Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Stephen Bishop. The likely Oscar contender's distributor is Columbia/Sony Pictures, the same company that brought you The Social Network.

At no. 2 on Friday, Disney's The Lion King 3D pulled in $6.05 million. Since kiddie flicks tend to perform better on the weekend proper, chances are The Lion King will have the top spot at the domestic box office for the second weekend in a row.

Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, The Lion King features songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, and the voices of Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, Robert Guillaume, Moira Kelly, Rowan Atkinson, and Cheech Marin.

Austin Stowell, Dolphin Tale, Nathan Gamble
Nathan Gamble, Austin Stowell, Dolphin Tale

Dolphin Tale was the no. 3 movie at the North American box office on Friday, Sept. 23, according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo. The 3D drama based on real-life events collected $5.11 million at 3,507 locations, and – as a movie appealing to the weekend matinee crowd – it may possibly end up ahead of Brad Pitt's Moneyball when final weekend figures are tallied.

Directed by Charles Martin Smith, the star of the 1983 nature drama Never Cry Wolf, Dolphin Tale has a solid 88 percent approval rating among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics. The cast includes Harry Connick Jr, Ashley Judd, Nathan Gamble, Austin Stowell, Frances Sternhagen, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Kris Kristofferson, and Morgan Freeman.

Taylor Lautner's first solo starring vehicle, Abduction, grossed $3.8 million at no. 4. Despite the horrible reviews – 0 percent approval rating among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics – and the fact that Lautner is an as-yet unproven leading man, the John Singleton-directed thriller is expected to reach $11 million by Sunday evening – unless Friday turns out to have been the film's top day thanks to eager twihards who can't wait until November and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 to take a look at their idol.

On the other hand, if the $11 million estimate is correct, then that's more than what Nicolas Winding Refn's widely acclaimed Drive earned last weekend in spite of the presence of Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. And at Deadline.com, Nikki Finke claims that Lionsgate's Abduction marketing expenses were one-fourth the amount Warner Bros. spent on Dolphin Tale and Sony Pictures on Moneyball.

In addition to Lautner, Abduction features Lily Collins, Sigourney Weaver, Maria Bello, Michael Nyqvist, and Alfred Molina. Shawn Christensen penned the screenplay.

At no. 5, the action/thriller Killer Elite, starring Jason Statham and Robert De Niro, opened with $3.5 million and may reach $10 million by Sunday evening. I'm willing to bet that Abduction will remain ahead of Killer Elite for the weekend; we'll find out if I'm right on Sunday morning, when weekend estimates are released.

Steven Soderbergh's Contagion took in $2.62 million at no. 6. The disease & hysteria drama stars Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, John Hawkes, Laurence Fishburne, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Contagion was followed by Drive with $1.88 million. Despite the generally excellent reviews, chances are Drive won't be on the top-ten chart very much longer.

At no. 8, The Help pulled in $1.31 million. Tate Taylor's comedy-drama featuring Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Mary Steenburgen, and others, passed the $150 million milestone on Thursday. Its current total is $151.35 million.

Rounding out the top ten were Rod Lurie-James Marsden-Kate Bosworth's Straw Dogs with $685k and Sarah Jessica Parker's I Don't Know How She Does It with $677,000.

Among the top ten, The Lion King 3D, boosted by 3D surcharges, posted the highest per-theater average, $2,577. I Don't Know How She Does It posted the lowest, $272, followed by Straw Dogs' $284. That means last weekend's newcomers will be gone rather rapidly.

Dolphin Tale image: Jon Farmer / Warner Bros.

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Brad Pitt, Moneyball, Jonah Hill
Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Moneyball is one of the best reviewed releases of the year. The fact that Brad Pitt has the lead in this baseball movie certainly hasn't hurt it. As a result, the Bennett Miller-directed Moneyball opened in North America with an estimated $6.8 million on Friday, Sept. 23, according to early, rough estimates found at The Hollywood Reporter.

Considering that Moneyball is perceived as an “adult” movie, the expected $20 million by Sunday evening isn't bad at all. Now, it's debatable whether Moneyball will remain on top before the weekend is over, for Disney's The Lion King 3D may earn about as much after pulling in $6 million on Friday. Remember, kiddie flicks tend to perform better on the weekend proper.

At no. 3 on Friday was Dolphin Tale, which took in an estimated $5 million. This inspirational drama itself inspired by real-life events will likely get a solid Saturday/Sunday boost as well.

Taylor Lautner's solo starring debut, Abduction, collected around $4 million at no. 4. Despite the mostly horrible reviews and the fact that Lautner is an as-yet unproven leading man, the John Singleton-directed thriller is expected to reach at least $11 million by Sunday evening. If estimates are correct, that's more than what the widely acclaimed Drive earned last weekend in spite of the presence of Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.

The action/thriller Killer Elite, starring Jason Statham and Robert De Niro, should come in at no. 5 with about $3.7 million on Friday and $10 million or so over the weekend.

Moneyball photo: Melinda Sue Gordon / Columbia TriStar

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