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Hakuna Matata, Baby: ‘Lion King 3D’ Races to $20M+ Pace at Box Office

Re-release of hand-drawn Disney classic set for big 3D re-release; new entries ”Drive,“ ”Straw Dogs“ and ”I Don’t Know How She Does It“ Have Quiet Fridays

Saturday morning update:

Proving the merits of the 3D re-release strategy, Disney's re-commission of its classic "The Lion King" had a big Friday at the box office, grossing around $8 million and putting it on pace for over $20 million for the weekend.

The big performance of "Lion King 3D" — way above pre-release estimates of around $15 million — overshadowed debuts of three adult-targeted new releases.

Weinstein's Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle "I Don't Know How She Does It" grossed $1.6 million Friday and will have to really multi-task to match pre-release projections in the $8 million range.

Likewise, Sony's remake of 1971 thriller "Straw Dogs" grossed $2 million, and will need a big Saturday to meet projections in the $9 million – $10 million range. 

Then there's the indie thriller "Drive" starring Ryan Gosling, which is on pace to hit the low end of its predictions at around $10 million – $12 million for the weekend. 

TheWrap will have a full box office report Sunday morning.

Thursday preview:

The race for the top spot at the domestic box office will feature an oddly matched trio, with the 3D conversion of a 17-year-old Disney classic going up against a critically acclaimed indie crime thriller and a globe-spanning holdover about a deadly pandemic.

Around $15 million is projected to be the winning gross, as last weekend's box office champion, Warner's Steven Soderbergh-directed "Contagion," takes on the Ryan Gosling thriller "Drive" and "The Lion King 3D."

Also debuting wide this weekend: Sony thriller "Straw Dogs" and Weinstein's Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle "I Don't Know How She Does It."

Also, Gus Van Sant's "Restless" debuts in limited release.

For adults not focused on their kids, "Drive" is the weekend's most anticipated release, debuting in 2,886 theaters with an impressive Rotten Tomatoes score of 93 percent as of midday Thursday.

Produced for under $15 million by Bold Films and Odd Lot Entertainment, its U.S. distribution rights were purchased by FilmDistrict at AFM last year.

Also read: Review: Right Turns and Wrong Turns Make 'Drive' Go in Circles

The film is the product of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn and stars Gosling as a Hollywood stunt man who moonlights as a getaway driver for dangerous thieves.

The supporting cast includes Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks. (In fact, the voluptuous "Mad Men" star does double duty at the box office this weekend, also co-starring in "I Don't Know How She Does It.")

"Drive" is garnering 38 percent "definite interest" responses from men under 25, according to tracking firm NRG, with 11 percent of that group saying it's their first choice to see next time they're in theaters.

Projections for the film's opening weekend come in anywhere from $10 million – $15 million.

Also read: Review: Sarah Jessica Parker? I Really Don't Care How She Does It

Also predicted to take in as much as $15 million while debuting at 2,330 3D-equipped theaters, Disney's 3D re-release of "The Lion King" is only the latest theatrical go-around for a film that has grossed $788.2 million worldwide since it was first released in 1994. (To adjust that for "Toy Story 3's" inflated moder-day dollars, it'd probably be closing in on $2 billion.)

Similarly, Disney released the first two installments of its "Toy Story" franchise in a 3D double feature in 2009, grossing about $32.3 million for its trouble — about enough to break even on conversion, and prints and advertising.

Tracking is particularly strong among women under 25, with 90 percent reporting awareness of "Lion King 3D," 47 percent reporting definite interest and 16 percent calling it their first choice.

As for Sony's "Straw Dogs," the R-rated remake will debut in 2,408 theaters, arriving with weak reviews (36 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).

Pre-release projections come in at around $8 million – $10 million, which was shot under the Screen Gems banner for around $25 million. 

The remake of a 1971 thriller, "Straw Dogs" stars James Marsden as a screenwriter who, along with his wife (played by Kate Bosworth), moves to the Deep South and gets into trouble with the locals.

"I Don't Know How She Does It," meanwhile, stars Sarah Jessica Parker as a wife, mother and hedge-fund manager whose mega-busy compartmentalized life comes undone in Parker's sassy, humorous style.

Produced by Weinstein for a budget in the low $20 million range, the PG-13-rated comedy is debuting in 2,476 theaters with downer pre-release projections of $7 million – $8 million.

"We've certainly based all of our marketing on her," noted Weinstein distribution chief Erik Lomis, referring to Parker, who has enjoyed both spectacular box-office openings ($57 million for the first "Sex and the City" in 2008) as well as disastrous ones ($6.6 million for "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" two years ago).

Another element of intrigue this weekend: Lionsgate's critically acclaimed mixed martial arts movie "Warrior," which was only able to translate strong critical buzz into a weak $5.2 million opening. Lionsgate needs this movie to break out of the old box office sleeper hold this weekend.