Film CHUD Pred Weekend Per Total
1 The Lion King $18m (-11.3) $29,300,000 $12,575 $29,300,000
2 Contagion
$11m (-3.5) $14,480,000 (-35%) $4,494 $44,192,091
3 Drive
$12m (+1) $11,018,464 $3,818 $11,018,464
4 The Help
$6.5m (+.1) $6,438,000 (-28%) $2,136 $147,364,754
5 Straw Dogs
$6m (+1) $5,000,000 $2,076 $5,000,000
6 I Don’t Know How She Does It
$6.4m (+1.9) $4,502,000 $1,818 $4,502,000
7 The Debt
$2,945,897 (-38%) $1,609 $26,567,697
8 Warrior $2,770,000 (-47%) $1,471 $9,912,300
9 Rise of the Planet of the Apes
$2,625,000 (-32%) $1,122 $171,618,406
10 Colombiana
$2,300,000 (-42%) $1,190 $33,347,232

Avg. CHUD Prediction Difference: +/- $3.13m

Nostalgia is king, a hit’s a hit, and you can milk a classic… all lessons the studios will take away from this weekend. Also, keep on trying to tell them 3D is dead– they love it.

On Friday I predicted (along with everyone else with a brain) that Lion King would take the top spot, but few guessed that it would open to nearly $30m. Obviously this is nothing to the blockbuster openings of Pixar/Disney/Dreamworks animations these days, but for a nearly 20 year old cartoon that’s just making a two week run at some 3D cash… that’s extremely impressive. A lot of eyes welling with nostalgia in theaters this weekend, as even the prediction article sparked people to remember the first movie they saw in theaters (once I updated it to say that Lion King was in fact the first movie I was taken to as a child).

This $30m opening is the result of an extremely shrewd, well calculated move that saw Disney take advantage of a wide variety of factors. First and most importantly is that the weekend was a fairly clear one: held over adult dramas, a cult art/action film in the making, a dumped horror film, and a non-factor rom-com. This was an open weekend for a high-profile family film to debut, especially since not one other family film was currently in the top 10, and it’s been since late July’s The Smurfs that another 3D kids flick has been in theaters. Wallets and interest are replenished, the frame was open, and the “two-week engagement” incited the twenty-somethings and other nostalgic parents to go ahead and get out there to see it. A shrewd September move. I’d expect* to see them do this for another year or two with the other mid-90s classic animations (the stories of which are well told in Waking Sleeping Beauty, by the way).

*I’m completely forgetting that they’ve long since announced the Beauty and the Beast re-release (before The Lion King in fact) and have simply delayed it over and over. (Thanks Jason)

Drive scored a nice number three spot behind Contagion‘s surprisingly strong hold, and should make its budget back and then some. While there seems to be some mainstream audience rejection of the “artsy” car film, those sharp enough to know what they’re walking into are catching on to what the critics have been talking about for so long. This one should have a long life: hopefully a decent pair of legs in the theater, and a place on the shelf next to some true classics from there on. Of course, if all the unfortunate anecdotes of shitty theater experiences I read this morning on the boards are any indication, maybe the home experience will be best for those that will love this movie. That’s a painful thing to say, and I hope those same people go out and seek other theaters with good projection and crisp sounds at times when the assholes aren’t out to play.

It’s sad to see Warrior not catch on, as it really is a fine film. I think the studio realized they had a crowd-pleaser from the start and tried to build buzz by being open about it and letting critics sing its praises early, but the match never quite struck. That kind of buzz-building approach is tough to make work in a way that will bring big returns, but it’s something that keeps being attempted because it’s cheap. I have no doubt a more traditional wide-release with a larger scale marketing blitz focused on seeing Tom Hardy before he’s the next big Batman villain would have had a bigger impact.

Of the two late September dumps, it was the questionable horror remake that ended up cracking the top five, and the rom-com that couldn’t even manage $5m (someone’s Sex and the City 3 quote just dropped significantly). They’ll be gone as quickly as they came, with even the hint of the water-cooler conversation drowned out by the noise of the rising bubbles.

A couple folks on the boards noted that not only is Rise of the Planet of the Apes still in the top 10 in its seventh week (very rare these days), but that Cowboys & Aliens is still in the top twenty, desperately clinging to a few hundred theaters to get passed $100m. An interesting juxtaposition, no?

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