'Lion King' roars in 3-D

By The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — A 3-D version of “The Lion King,” which first bowed two dimensionally in theaters 17 years ago, took the box-office crown this weekend.

Audiences were apparently nostalgic for the animated movie, which collected a surprisingly strong $29.3 million domestically, according to an estimate from Walt Disney Pictures. The reformatted version is slated to play a limited, two-week engagement in theaters.

The updated rendering of the 1994 picture sold far more tickets than any of the other new films that debuted Friday. “Drive,” a violent crime drama starring Ryan Gosling, revved up a decent $11 million. But a remake of 1971’s “Straw Dogs” flopped with only $5 million, as did the Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” which grossed a paltry $4.5 million.

Meanwhile, “Contagion,” the pandemic thriller that debuted last weekend at No. 1, had another solid weekend in theaters. The film, directed by Steven Soderbergh, saw its ticket sales fall only 35 percent to $14.5 million, bringing its total to $44.2 million.

Heading into the weekend, audience surveys had indicated “The Lion King” would debut with about $15 million. But moviegoers were clearly much more interested in seeing the film in 3-D than even Disney had anticipated. Of those who saw the movie this weekend, an overwhelming 92 percent opted to purchase a pricier 3-D ticket — an especially high percentage for a family film. This year, for example, the animated film “Rio” had about 58 percent of its business come from 3-D, while the format accounted for roughly 45 percent of the receipts for “Kung Fu Panda.”

“To take a page out of the movie, I think it boils down to the circle of life,” Dave Hollis, the studio’s executive vice president of distribution, said of the picture’s opening. “Those who saw the film as a child now have the chance to share what was meaningful and special to them with their own children. To have something that meaningful has provided a great opportunity for our exhibition partners during a softer time of year when they need to satisfy the need for a family film.”

The original version of “The Lion King” opened to $40.9 million during its first weekend in wide release and went on to gross a staggering $788.2 million worldwide. The film has not been available for purchase on DVD or VHS since 2004.

Disney had been planning to release a 3-D version of “Beauty and the Beast” nationwide this fall, but instead only opened the film at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood this month. The movie played there for an exclusive two-week run, which was intended to promote the new version’s DVD/Blu-ray launch in October.

Hollis said the success of “The Lion King” might cause Disney executives to reconsider that decision.

“Drive,” in which Gosling plays a getaway driver, is one of the best-reviewed films of the year. But moviegoers who saw the film this weekend — mostly young males — did not seem to get what they were expecting, giving the movie a dismal average grade of C-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

“This can be a polarizing film,” said Bob Berney, president of theatrical distribution for FilmDistrict, which released the movie. “It’s so extreme and violent that some people are going to be turned off. But it’s also so cool, it’s like discovering an early Tarantino film.”

The action flick was financed by Bold Films and Odd Lot Entertainment for about $15 million; FilmDistrict later purchased U.S. distribution rights.

While Sam Peckinpah’s original “Straw Dogs” was a critical favorite, it never found massive success at the box office. The new version, directed by Rod Lurie, attracted men and women in nearly equal measure, and 54 percent of the crowd was over age 25. But those who saw the film didn’t like it, giving it a poor average grade of C. The movie, about a married couple who are tormented by locals when they move to the South, was produced by Sony’s Screen Gems label for about $25 million.

“I Don’t Know How She Does It” is the latest disappointment for Parker, who has struggled to open a movie at the box office in recent years outside of the “Sex and the City” franchise.

And the film — in which she stars as a mother torn between her personal and professional duties — was yet another bomb for the Weinstein Co. The company, which produced the picture for about $24 million, has had a string of its recent releases underperform at the box office.

Critics were not enamored with the picture and neither were moviegoers this weekend, giving it an average grade of B-minus. The movie, based on a best-selling novel by Allison Pearson, appealed mostly to older women: 80 percent of the crowd was female and 60 percent was over age 35.

“The crowd for this kind of movie doesn’t rush out to see it on the first weekend, and we had a movie in the marketplace that did twice what anybody thought it was going to do,” said Erik Lomis, president of theatrical distribution and home entertainment for the Weinstein Co. “I think we lost a lot of mothers to ‘The Lion King’ and really got hurt that way.”