From left: Nathan Gamble, Morgan Freeman, Austin Highsmith, Cozi Zuehlsdorff… (Jon Farmer / Warner Bros. )
Four films debuted at the box office this weekend, but a trifecta of pictures already in theaters proved more alluring to moviegoers than any of the new offerings.
The 3-D family film "Dolphin Tale," which came in third upon its opening last weekend, rose to No. 1 with $14.2 million and brought its domestic total to $37.5 million, according to an estimate from distributor Warner Bros. It was followed by the baseball drama "Moneyball," also in its second week. The well-reviewed Brad Pitt film scored $12.5 million and has so far grossed $38.5 million. A 3-D version of 1994's "The Lion King" continued its surprisingly strong run with $11.1 million; the re-release has collected $79.7 million.
Of the films that opened in theaters this weekend, the Christian drama "Courageous" had the most robust launch. The ultra-low-budget film played in at least 1,000 fewer theaters than any of the other new releases but still sold $8.8 million worth of tickets.
The comedy about cancer "50/50," starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, made a decent $8.9 million, while the far more costly supernatural thriller "Dream House" brought in a disappointing $8.2 million. Meanwhile, the romantic comedy "What's Your Number?," starring Anna Faris, flopped, collecting a paltry $5.6 million.
The weekend's box office results showed the power of faith-based films at the multiplex. Though "Dolphin Tale" does not have overtly spiritual themes, it was advertised to Christian families as well as those who home-school their children.
" 'Dolphin Tale' had a faith-based marketing component to it and is respectful of faith-based audiences, but we don't design our movies for that audience," said Andrew Kosove, co-founder of Alcon Entertainment, which financed the movie for about $37 million.
Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of distribution for Warner Bros, noted that "Dolphin Tale" had "particular strength in Middle America and the South."
"Courageous" also played well in what Sony Distribution President Rory Bruer described as the heartland. The picture, made by sibling minister-filmmakers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, is about four police officers who look to God when devastated by a tragedy. Produced by Affirm Film, the Sony division that acquires projects with religious themes, the movie had a budget of only $2 million.
"Courageous" got off to an even better start than "Fireproof," the Kendricks' 2008 film featuring "Growing Pains" star Kirk Cameron as a firefighter struggling to keep his marriage together. That movie, made for about $500,000, opened to $6.8 million and ultimately collected $33.5 million worldwide.
Those who saw "Courageous" this weekend -- 77% of whom were over the age of 25 -- loved it, giving it an average grade of A-plus, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
The comedy "50/50" was produced by Summit Entertainment and Mandate Pictures for about $8 million, so its backers may ultimately end up in OK shape. Still, the movie came in on the lower end of industry expectations; pre-release audience surveys had indicated the film would start off with about $12 million.
The film, about a 25-year-old who relies on his best friend when diagnosed with cancer, could make up some ground in the coming weeks if it benefits from strong word of mouth. Indeed, those who saw the well-reviewed movie this weekend liked it a lot, giving it an average grade of A-minus.
Summit had been hoping that young males who are fans of Rogen would buy tickets to the picture, but the audience skewed slightly more female, and 65% of the crowd was over 25.
"Dream House" stars Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz as a couple who move into a haunted home. The film, distributed by Universal Pictures, was not inexpensive: It was financed by Morgan Creek Production for about $50 million.
Though the movie features respected actors and was directed by six-time Oscar nominee Jim Sheridan, it had earned the worst reviews of any of the weekend's new debuts with a dismal 5% fresh rating on movie-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences didn't hate it as much as critics did, though, giving the film a B grade.
"What's Your Number?" is being distributed by 20th Century Fox but was produced by New Regency Pictures for about $20 million. The film, about a single woman who frets over the number of men she has slept with, was seen mostly by older women this weekend. Audiences gave the movie an average grade of B.
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*--* Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada: *--*
*--* Movie 3-day gross Percentage Total Days in (Studio) (millions) change from (millions) release last wknd 1 Dolphin Tale $14.2 -26% $37.5 10 (Warner Bros./Alcon)
2 Moneyball (Sony) $12.5 -36% $38.5 10
3 The Lion King 3-D $11.1 -50% $79.7 17 (Disney)
4 50/50 $8.9 NA $8.9 3 (Summit/Mandate)
5 Courageous (Sony) $8.8 NA $8.8 3
6 Dream House $8.2 NA $8.2 3 (Universal/Morgan Creek)
7 Abduction $5.7 -48% $19.1 10 (Lionsgate)
8 What's Your Number? $5.6 NA $5.6 3 (Fox/New Regency)
9 Contagion (Warner $5 -40% $64.7 24 Bros./Participant)
10 Killer Elite (Open $4.9 -48% $17.4 3 Road/Omnilab) *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change from Year-to-date Change from Change in attendance (in millions) 2010 gross(in 2010 from 2010 billions) $100 5% $8 -3% -5% *--*
Sources: Times research and Hollywood.com Box Office
Los Angeles Times