Box Office: ‘Lion King’ Pacing to Beat ‘Moneyball,’ Reclaim Throne

Weekend projections now have Disney's 3D re-release at $24M, “Moneyball” at around $19M, “Dolphin Tale” at about $18M

Saturday update:

So much for early Friday box office projections: Updated data shows Disney's "The Lion King," in weekend No. 2 of a 3D re-release, pulling away from the pack and on pace to gross around $24 million for the weekend.

That same raw box office data had Sony's Brad Pitt baseball film, "Moneyball," winning the box office with around $23 million this weekend. Better developed estimates now have the film grossing around $19 million. 

Also hitting its pre-release estimate: Warner/Alcon family film "Dolphin Tale" is pacing at around $18 million, according to Saturday morning estimates. 

Two other wide releases this weekend, Lionsgate Taylor Lautner vehicle "Abduction" and Open Road Jason Statham/Clive Owen slaughter-fest "Killer Elite," are slated to both miss their pre-release low-teens marks — in fact, both films are on pace to narrowly miss the $10 million barrier.

TheWrap will have a full box office rundown Sunday morning.

Friday update:

A movie about a mid-market baseball team winning its division 10 years ago with some nifty backroom player analysis is about to win the weekend box office.

Of course, having Brad Pitt around certainly isn't hurting Sony's "Moneyball," which, according to early domestic box office returns, is on a pace to exceed $23 million this weekend.

Warner Bros./Alcon Entertainment's "Dolphin Tale" looks like it will finish in a strong second place, pacing at around $20 million and also slightly above pre-release projections.

In third place, Disney continues to generate nifty found money with its 3D re-release of "The Lion King" — the animated classic is on pace for around $18 million, according to early data.

Two other new releases, Lionsgate's "Abduction" and Open Road's "Killer Elite," are both on pace to meet low-end projections of around $12 million – $13 million.

Thursday preview:

That funky new math that baseball teams started using a decade back? We could sure use it to better project who will win the weekend box office, with Brad Pitt movie "Moneyball" moving into a market currently owned by Disney's 3D re-release of "The Lion King."

Box office number crunchers say that a gross of around $20 million should be enough to win the weekend, which will also see the debut of Warner's uplifting family film "Dolphin Tale" in 3,507 theaters.

The weekend will be a veritable hunk parade, with Lionsgate bringing a "Bourne"-style action vehicle for "Twilight"-series star Taylor Lautner, "Abduction," into around 3,117 U.S. and Canadian locations; new distributor Open Road is releasing body-counter "Killer Elite," starring Jason Statham and Clive Owen, in 2,986 U.S. and Canadian theaters.

Also arriving in four L.A. and NYC locations: Relativity's "Machine Gun Preacher."

"It's a positive cluster-fuck," said one studio marketing executive. "The 'positive' is that a lot of people should be going to the movies this weekend."

For its part, Sony's "Moneyball," opening up in 2,993 locations, is projected to ring up between $18 million – $20 million.

Also read: Can 'Moneyball' Hit a Box-Office Home Run If the A's Stink?

Averaging a 93 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, the film stars Pitt as Billy Beane, the real-life general manager of the Oakland A's, who  shocked Major League Baseball a decade ago when he used new methods of statistical analysis to put together a playoff team on a shoestring budget.

Jonah Hill, Robin Wright and Philip Seymour Hoffman co-star in the 133-minute PG-13 film, which was shot on a budget just above $50 million.

According to research firm NRG, 45 percent of men say they have definite interest in seeing "Moneyball," while 15 percent describe it as their "first choice" to see next time they're in a theater  – pretty solid tracking.

Also read: Review: 'Moneyball' Knocks It Out of the Park

At one point several years ago, of course, the prospects for this film actually being made were about as bleak as the mathematically eliminated A's making this year's MLB playoffs.

Indeed, the movie has played its extra innings and then some, with Sony pulling the plug on original director Steven Soderbergh in 2009 over creative differences, before bringing it back and putting in the mits of director Bennett Miller and writer Aaron Sorkin.

Not swimming as far to get into theaters, but projected to open in the $16 million – $18 million range, Warner's "Dolphin Tale 3D" comes from Alcon Entertainment, the same production company that put together the sleeper hit "The Blind Side" two years ago.

Also read: Baseball Fanatics Wonder: Is 'Moneyball' Fair or Foul?

Starring Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Kris Kristofferson, the film was inspired by a true story that occurred at Florida's Clearwater Marine Aquiarium, in which a dolphin who lost a tail in a crab trap (no, that's not a Charlie Sheen roast joke) has its life saved when a local team of do-gooders develops a prosthetic.

With the film shot on a budget of around $37 million, more than a few box office watchers have compared it to Sony's surprise hit "Soul Surfer" — which had similar themes, but is all mixed up species-wise. In that film, a surfer girl needing a prosthetic arm after getting it eaten by a shark.

But you get the point. Both PG films have similar uplifting spirits, and like "Sould Surfer," Warner is targeting spiritual groups with its marketing.

Reviews for "Dolphin Tale" are coming in at a solid 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with 40 percent of females from all age groups telling NRG they have definite interest in seeing the film and 12 percent describing it as their first choice.

Meanwhile, projected to open in the $13 million – $15 million range, pro-killer extravaganza "Killer Elite" arrives from its Australian production roots with a bit of market confusion.

The R-rated film is not a remake of Sam Peckinpah's 1975 movie "The Killer Elite." (And given the disappointing $5.1 million opening endured by a real Peckinpah remake just last weekend, Sony's "Straw Dogs," that may not be a bad thing.)

In fact, the new "Killer Elite" is based on a 1991 novel, "The Feather Men," written by a former SAS operative, Sir Ranulph Fiennes. The author billed the story of a rag-tag group of former SAS men who save their former leader from an angry sheik as being a true story, but its veracity has been largely debunked.

Also read: Review: Even With Robert De Niro, 'Killer' Isn't So Elite

Shot by Australia's Omnilab Media — the company behind 2008 Statham film "The Bank Job" — "Killer Elite" got much of the film's $70 million budget from the Aussie government. It is being distributed in the U.S. by Open Road. 

That's the distributor jointly formed by distributors AMC and Regal Entertainment, and headed by former Lionsgate distribution and marketing executive Tom Ortenberg.

Scoring only 37 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, "Killer Elite" most assuredly doesn't have critical buzz around it. But thanks to its rather disingenuous marketing, it does come with the impression that Robert De Niro is a co-star in the film, even though he only dropped by the movie's Melbourne set for a 10-minute cameo.

According to NRG, 46 percent of men express definite interest in seeing "Killer Elite," with 15 percent calling it their first choice. Total awareness among men is only around 68 percent, however.

Finally, Lionsgate spent about $35 million to shoot "Abduction," a PG-13 film starring Lautner as a suburban teen whose life is upended when he finds a archive picture of an abducted youngster on the internet that looks just like him. (The obvious questions emerge: Who am I? Who gave birth to these marvelous pectoral muscles? Everything I know is wrong! Etc, etc.)

Also read: Review: 'Abduction' Is Hitchcock Lite … With Lautner Lite

Hinjinks, of course, ensues when an army of gun-totting operatives pounces, forcing Lautner to use "Bourne Identity" skill sets he didn't even know he had. Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello, Michael Nyqvist and Sigourney Weaver lend their much-needed supporting chops.

With John Singleton directing his first film since 2005's "Four Brothers," reviews have been universally terrible for "Abduction." In fact, they were at the "Bucky Larson" level, 0 percent, as of late-day Thursday.

Musician Shawn Christensen wrote the script for "Abduction" on spec and Lionsgate scored a bidding war for it back in February 2010. 

The pre-release call is for around $13 million – $15 million for "Abduction," with 43 percent of women under 25 saying they have definite interest in seeing the film and 12 percent calling it their first choice, according to NRG.