Choosing inspirational family dramas over stories about death and breakups, moviegoers made Warner Bros.' "Dolphin Tale" the No. 1 film at the box office this weekend.
Apparently, audiences didn't want to hear stories about cancer — the Summit/Mandate dramedy "50/50" had a bummer opening, taking in just $8.9 million.
"Dolphin Tale," the story about a group of Florida do-gooders who fit an injured dolphin with a prosthetic tail grossed $14.2 million in its second weekend.
That was also good enough to best strong showings from two holdovers, Sony baseball movie "Moneyball" ($12.5 million) and Disney's 3D "Lion King" re-release ($11.1 million).
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As for the newcomers:
Arriving in 2,458 theaters with solid reviews, "50/50" — which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young man in a cancer battle — missed its pre-release target of around $12 million, grossing just $8.9 million. The movie, which garnered an "A-minus" grade from moviegoer feedback firm Cinemascore, was shot for around $8 million.
Meanwhile, produced by Morgan Creek for around $55 million and distributed by Universal, murder thriller "Dream House" finished its opening weekend with just $8.2 million.
The only newcomer to exceed expectations was "Courageous," a $2 million faith-based family drama, produced by Sherwood Entertainment and distributed by Sony, which grossed $8.8 million.
"They seem to be dialed into what audiences want," said Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer, noting the remarkable batting average of Sherwood, a small production company owned by a Georgia-based Baptist church.
For example, Sherwood's no-name family drama about firefighters called "Fireproof," took in $33.7 million on a $500,000 production spend three years ago.
With director, writer and star Alex Kendrick now turning his focus to cops struggling to father their sons and keep the streets safe, the PG-13 "Courageous" was marketed heavily in faith communities and achieved its opening in just 1,161 theaters.
The film also garnered a rare A-plus grade from Cinemascore.
"It brought a lot of people out who don't often go to the movies," said Bruer. "It was meant to inspire."
Yes, a little inspiration goes a long way, as "Dolphin Tale" proved. Also garnering an A-plus from Cinemascore when it premiered last weekend, the film, shot by Alcon Entertainment for around $37 million, dropped just 25 percent from premiere.
Dismissing any notion that audiences were fleeing from depressing subject matter, Jeff Goldstein, executive VP of distribution for distributor Warner Bros., said simply, "Good movies rise to the top. Strong word of mouth for a family film will almost always make it successful."
With the overall market up about 3 percent from the same weekend last year, Brad Pitt film "Moneyball" finished in second place, dropping just 35 percent in its second weekend.
'Disney's "Lion King" re-release finally gave up its crown (sorry) after two weeks atop the domestic box office, dropping big at 51 percent … but not before re-igniting the hopes and dreams of 3D cheerleaders from Glendale to the Miracle Mile. The film has added $98.7 million to its original 1994 theatrical tally.
As for "50/50," which co-stars Seth Rogen, Summit distribution chief Richie Fay conceded, "We were expecting a little better. The reviews have been tremendous, and we got an A-minus Cinemascore."
Of course, much bigger pain will be felt by Morgan Creek and distributor Universal, which saw their $55 million thriller "Dream House," starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, significantly under-perform.
The film, distributed into 2,661 North American locations and directed by Jim Sheridan, arrived with terrible reviews (5 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).
R-rated comedy "What's Your Number?" was also critically mauled (23 percent). And it was the second straight bomb for star Faris — her "Take Me Home Tonight" opened to just $6.9 million for Relativity in March.
Among limited openings, adult drama "Margaret," starring Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick and Mark Ruffalo, opened to a dreadfully quiet $7,496 at two NYC and L.A. locations. The film graded out at only 43 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
And like her political career, Sarah Palin's box office power is waning — the latest documentary to focus on the former Alaska governor, Freestyle Releasing's "Sarah Palin – You Betcha!" grossed only around $7,000 playing at six locations.
Released in July, Palin doc "The Undefeated," grossed around $70,000 opening in 10 locations — not strong, but much better than "You Betcha!"
Here's how the top 10 finished:
"Dolphin Tale" ($14.2m)
"The Lion King 3D ($11.1m)
"Dream House" ($8.2m)
"What's Your Number?" ($5.6m)
"Killer Elite" ($4.9m)