Weekend Box Office (September 30 - October 2, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Despite four new offerings on the table, moviegoers chose feel-good leftovers as the top three films from last weekend remained unchanged, although their order certainly saw some shuffling. The animal pic Dolphin Tale rose from third to first place thanks to a terrific hold while Brad Pitt's baseball flick Moneyball stayed in second and two-time champ The Lion King 3D fell to third. New releases saw mostly mild results although the inspirational faith-based drama Courageous delivered a potent debut in fourth and was the only wide release to average more than $5,000 over the frame.

Terrific word-of-mouth helped Dolphin Tale capture the top spot with $13.9M in its second weekend of play, according to final studio figures, as its decline of 27% was quite low. The Warner Bros. release has grossed $37.2M in ten days and could be headed for $70-80M. It follows films like The Help and The Blind Side as uplifting stories that never opened at number one, but climbed into the top spot later due to strong buzz from audiences. Dolphin continued to make half of its gross from 3D screens.

Still in second place behind a family-friendly animal flick, Brad Pitt's baseball drama Moneyball enjoyed a good hold in its sophomore frame dipping 38% to $12M to raise its ten-day total to $38M. The decline was similar to the 35% dip by Ben Affleck's critically-acclaimed pic The Town from last September which grossed 53% of its eventual total in the first ten days. Moneyball looks on track to finish its season in the $70M ballpark and will have to work hard to stay in the Oscar conversation in the months ahead or else it will become forgotten like Town was which was virtually shut out of the Academy Awards.

After two weeks of ruling the box office chart, The Lion King 3D suffered a more dramatic decline falling 52% to $10.6M which still boosted the 17-day tally for the re-release to $79.2M. That puts Simba back into the all-time top ten with a lifetime gross of $407.8M for the number ten spot on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters. Disney will release the film on Blu-ray this Tuesday and will hope that many people will still want to experience the beloved film on the big screen for a couple of weeks longer.

Generating the only impressive opening among the quartet of new titles, and the biggest, Sony's fatherhood cop drama Courageous premiered in fourth with $9.1M while playing in only 1,161 theaters which was less than half as many playdates as any other film in the top ten. The strong $7,806 per-theater average was by far the best for any film in wide release. Courageous was produced for a mere $2M by Sherwood Pictures - the moviemaking arm of Georgia-based Sherwood Church - and acquired by Sony for an undisclosed amount.

The PG-13 film successfully entertained its target audience and scored a sparkling A+ from CinemaScore. The studio went after faith-based audiences with its marketing campaign and drew large crowds at its moderate number of locations. Big cities were not very relevant with Manhattan having only one theater showing the film. Females made up 53% of the crowd while the older-skewing pic drew 77% that were over 25. The debuted bested the $6.8M bow of the producer's Fireproof from 2008 (also a late September debut) which went on to gross a solid $33.5M - five times its opening. Courageous will become a big money maker by giving its audience the entertainment it wants while keeping production and marketing costs low.

Summit landed in fifth with its cancer comedy 50/50 which was close behind with $8.6M. Averaging a mild $3,517 from 2,458 theaters, the R-rated pic starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen played to a young adult audience with females making up 54% of the crowd and 65% being over 25. Reviews were strong and ticket buyers were pleased as the film earned a good A- CinemaScore. But Gordon-Levitt is no box office draw and Rogen often stumbles when outside of his safety zone. Plus a comedy about a man dealing with cancer was not something many wanted to pay to see. But positive scores from both critics and audiences could contribute to a decent run ahead.

Despite the arrival of the Halloween month, moviegoers didn't show up for the horror film Dream House which debuted in sixth with $8.1M from 2,661 locations for a lackluster $3,055 average. Financed and marketed by Morgan Creek with Universal handling distribution duties, the PG-13 chiller starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts was not screened for critics and reviews, not surprisingly, were awful once they started coming out. A recent flood of fright flicks also made this pic unnecessary for genre fans. Universal began doing damage control early reminding members of the press two days before opening day that this was not its film, but producer Morgan Creek's.

Taylor Lautner witnessed an understandable 49% drop on the second weekend for his action thriller Abduction which took in $5.6M. Lionsgate has collected $19.1M in ten days and looks headed for a $30M finish.

The Anna Faris-Chris Evans comedy What's Your Number? bombed debuting to just $5.4M for a dismal $1,806 average from 3,002 theaters. Fox's R-rated chick flick was panned by critics and did not excite those who did pay to come out earning only a B CinemaScore. Good will from the Faris hit The House Bunny and the Evans super hero pic Captain America did not carry over to this film.

Rounding out the top ten were the virus thriller Contagion with $4.9M, down 42%, and the action title Killer Elite which fell 47% to $4.9M as well. Cumes are $64.6M for Warner Bros. and $17.5M for Open Road.

The top ten films grossed $83.2M which was up 1% from last year when The Social Network opened in the top spot with $22.4M; but off 5% from 2009 when Zombieland debuted at number one with $24.7M.

Compared to projections, 50/50 and Courageous both opened close to my respective forecasts of $10M and $8M while Dream House and What's Your Number? bowed below my predictions of $11M and $9M.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

Watch the trailer for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. For a NEW review of Force visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Ides of March and Real Steel both open.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Sep 30 - Oct 2 Sep 23 - 25 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Dolphin Tale $ 13,912,419 $ 19,152,401 -27.4 3,515 2 $ 3,958 $ 37,183,796 Warner Bros.
2 Moneyball 12,031,592 19,501,302 -38.3 2,993 2 4,020 38,000,130 Sony
3 The Lion King 3D 10,615,645 21,929,332 -51.6 2,340 3 4,537 79,209,794 Disney
4 Courageous 9,063,147 1,161 1 7,806 9,063,147 Sony
5 50/50 8,644,095 2,458 1 3,517 8,644,095 Summit
6 Dream House 8,129,355 2,661 1 3,055 8,129,355 Universal
7 Abduction 5,608,053 10,925,253 -48.7 3,118 2 1,799 19,097,241 Lionsgate
8 What's Your Number? 5,421,669 3,002 1 1,806 5,421,669 Fox
9 Killer Elite 4,916,839 9,352,008 -47.4 2,986 2 1,647 17,501,286 Open Road
10 Contagion 4,907,154 8,451,226 -41.9 2,744 4 1,788 64,569,619 Warner Bros.
11 Drive 3,289,714 5,763,998 -42.9 1,974 3 1,667 27,003,029 FilmDistrict
12 The Help 3,015,995 4,370,051 -31.0 2,505 8 1,204 159,373,023 Disney
13 Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain 735,231 1,135,157 -35.2 274 4 2,683 6,250,719 Code Black
14 The Debt 628,884 1,260,611 -50.1 603 5 1,043 30,073,751 Focus
15 Rise of the Planet of the Apes 541,075 1,162,288 -53.4 591 9 916 174,482,629 Fox
16 Bad Teacher 473,817 160,977 194.3 354 15 1,338 100,226,015 Sony
17 Warrior 460,263 1,119,835 -58.9 707 4 651 13,082,667 Lionsgate
18 Captain America: The First Avenger 436,207 302,029 44.4 350 11 1,246 175,330,418 Paramount
19 Straw Dogs 426,681 2,051,333 -79.2 874 3 488 10,067,903 Sony
20 Colombiana 407,354 934,728 -56.4 412 6 989 35,845,421 Sony
Top 5 $ 54,266,898 $ 80,860,296 -32.9
Top 10 83,249,968 103,498,944 -19.6
Top 20 93,665,189 112,081,042 -16.4
Top 20 vs. 2010 93,665,189 90,020,824 4.0

Last Updated: October 3, 2011 at 4:45PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.