'The Lion King' Surpasses 'The Phantom Menace,' Chris Evans Movie Disappoints

Chris Evans, Puncture
Chris Evans, Puncture

As listed on the (so far incomplete) Box Office Mojo chart, Weekend's closest competitor this weekend (Sept. 23-25) at the U.S. and Canada box office was Cameron Crowe's Pearl Jam Twenty, which is screening at seven locations. After blowing off some box office steam when it opened last Tuesday, Crowe's documentary earned an estimated $89,500 this weekend, averaging $12,786 per location.

Pearl Jam Twenty was followed by Marc Forster's Machine Gun Preacher, starring Gerard Butler and Michelle Monaghan. Released by Relativity, the $30 million-budgeted actioner raked in a disappointing $44,000 at 4 sites, averaging $11,000 per site. Kathy Baker and Michael Shannon are others in the cast.

Also worth noting, Chris Evans has gone from red-white-and-blue shining hero in Captain America: The First Avenger to red-white-and-blue lawyer/drug addict in Puncture. The result was $35,700 at 4 sites, and a modest per-theater average of $8,925. Directed by Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen, Puncture also features Vinessa Shaw, Aliens' Michael Biehn, Dolphin Tale's Austin Stowell, and Richard Burton's daughter Kate Burton.

See also: Gay Love Story 'Weekend' Tops Domestic Box Office Per-Theater Average.

Puncture photo: Millennium Entertainment.

The Lion King, Disney, Mufasa
Musafa, The Lion King

Disney's The Lion King 3D pulled in $21.92 million in North America this past weekend, Sept. 23-25, according to box office actuals found at Box Office Mojo. Originally released in 1994, The Lion King has by now become a 2011 sleeper hit. The animated feature directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff was down only 27 percent from last weekend – the lowest drop-off rate on the North American top-twelve chart. Partly thanks to the 3D surcharges, The Lion King also boasted the highest per-theater average among the top twelve films: $9,412.

After ten days, The Lion King has added $61.47 million to its already impressive box office cume. In fact, with $676.32 million, The Lion King is now #20 on the inflation-adjusted chart of the all-time domestic top grossers. Just this weekend, it surpassed both Walt Disney's Fantasia and barely edged out George Lucas' Stars Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. In terms of actual number of tickets sold, however, The Lion King should still be behind both movies, as its latest big-screen incarnation has the advantage of revenue-boosting 3D surcharges.

By next weekend, it'll end up ahead of both the Dustin Hoffman-Anne Bancroft-Katharine Ross 1967 blockbuster The Graduate and the Steven Spielberg sci-fi/horror thriller Jurassic Park. Indeed, The Lion King may even get to surpass the Spielberg-Harrison Ford adventure-actioner Raiders of the Lost Ark. Next in line is the Paul Newman-Robert Redford Oscar-winning comedy caper The Sting. For the time being, Richard Marquand's Return of the Jedi, James Cameron's Avatar, and William Wyler's multiple Oscar-winner Ben-Hur seem “safe.”

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

Note: The Lion King has not surpassed the original Star Wars, as reported in the original version of this post. Not even close. As a commenter pointed out (see below), Star Wars remains no. 2 on Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted all-time chart.

The Lion King picture: Walt Disney Enterprises.

The Dolphin, Dolphin Tale
Dolphin Tale

Behind The Lion King 3D, Bennett Miller's baseball drama Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Robin Wright, collected $19.5 million at 2,993 North American locations this past weekend (Sept. 23-25) according to box office actuals found at Box Office Mojo. That's $1.1 million less than Sony Pictures' estimates released yesterday.

With its $19.5 million, Moneyball would have ended up in third place for the weekend if it weren't for the fact that Warner Bros. also way overestimated the box office take of its 3D “family” movie Dolphin Tale. Directed by Charles Martin Smith, and featuring Harry Connick Jr, Ashley Judd, Nathan Gamble, Morgan Freeman, Austin Stowell, Frances Sternhagen, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, and Kris Kristofferson, Dolphin Tale took in $19.15 million at 3,507 locations. That's $1.05 million less than originally estimated.

In sum: contrary to the studios' Sunday estimates, neither Moneyball nor Dolphin Tale – despite the latter's 3D surcharges – managed to crack the $20 million mark.

One of the best reviewed releases of the year, Moneyball ultimately opened with a good – 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 brought in $22.44 million at 2,771 sites on its debut weekend, while Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which was greeted by mixed reviews, collected $19.01 million at 3,565 sites.

It remains to be seen whether Moneyball will go the way of The Social Network (domestic $96.96m; worldwide $224.92m) or Money Never Sleeps (domestic: $52.47m; worldwide $134.74m). Domestically, solid reviews and awards-season buzz may place Moneyball closer to The Social Network; internationally, the picture is much fuzzier. Brad Pitt is a major plus, but baseball is a major minus.

Despite its Best Picture Oscar nod and the presence of Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams' overseas take was about one third of its domestic box office gross back in 1989. Despite the presence of Tom Hanks (and to a lesser extent Geena Davis and Madonna), A League of Their Own earned $24.9 million abroad vs. $107.53 million domestically in the early '90s. Featuring Dennis Quaid, The Rookie raked in $75.6 million in the U.S. and Canada, but a dismal $5 million abroad about nine years ago. And finally, Dennis Dugan's 2006 baseball flick The Benchwarmers went on to gross $59 million domestically but only $5.11 million internationally.

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 Jonah Hill, Moneyball also features Chris Pratt, 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.

As for Dolphin Tale, brought to you by some of the same people behind the sleeper blockbuster The Blind Side, it probably failed to perform as well as its “inspirational” predecessor – which, without 3D surcharges, opened with $34.11 million, in late 2009 – because it lacked Sandra Bullock or box office friendly facsimile. Morgan Freeman's anti-Tea Party remarks in all likelihood had nothing to do with Dolphin Tale's slightly below-par performance; Freeman made his remarks on Friday and the film was up 70 percent on Saturday and 8 percent (compared to Friday) on Sunday.

Dolphin Tale image: Jon Farmer / Warner Bros.

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