Four new releases attempt to dethrone The Lion King (in 3D), though Moneyball looks like the only one with a legitimate chance. The Brad Pitt baseball movie, based on Michael Lewis's bestselling book of the same name, steps up to the plate on around 3,800 screens at 2,993 locations. Other new movies in the hunt include Taylor Lautner thriller Abduction (3,800 screens at 3,118 theaters), Dolphin Tale (over 5,000 screens at 3,507 theaters, with 2,700 of those theaters playing the movie in 3D) and Killer Elite (3,600 screens at 2,986 locations).
Moneyball's marketing has put star Brad Pitt front-and-center in its trailers, commercials and posters, and for good reason. Since 1999's Fight Club, nearly all of Pitt's live-action wide releases have opened to at least $20 million, with the exception of Babel (not exactly a mainstream movie) and 2008's Burn After Reading ($19.1 million). The latter movie's debut was just a little bit lower than the best opening ever for a baseball movie, which belongs to the 2006 comedy The Benchwarmers ($19.7 million). The lack of interest in baseball movies helps explain why distributor Sony/Columbia is targeting a high-teen millions start, though Pitt's star status should help propel the movie at least slightly above that expectation.
Abduction also has a fairly big star attached, albeit one without much of a proven track record. The movie marks Taylor Lautner's first major role outside of the Twilight series, and his fellow Twilight stars haven't had a ton of luck so far: Kristen Stewart has been in a few independent movies along with the disappointing 2009 comedy Adventureland ($16 million), while Robert Pattinson missed with Remember Me ($19.1 million) before finding a decent audience in Water for Elephants ($58.7 million). With its on-the-run thriller aspects, Abduction calls to mind September 2008's Eagle Eye, which opened to a huge $29.2 million on its way to over $101 million. At that time, though, Shia LaBeouf had more crossover appeal than Lautner, and the movie promised unique thrills as opposed to Abduction's fairly generic-looking ones. Abduction is trying to draw men and women, but it doesn't look action-packed enough for men nor romantic enough for women.
Dolphin Tale probably has the toughest challenge this weekend, as it has to find a way to wrestle some family audiences away from The Lion King. It's been positioned as an inspirational true story, with trailers and commercials going so far as to point out that it's from the studio and producers of The Blind Side. That movie was probably more universally appealing, though, and didn't have to worry about the uncertainty surrounding 3D. While The Lion King proved that there is definitely life left in the format, distributor Warner Bros. appears to recognize that family audiences have been gravitating away from 3D, and are therefore hedging their bets by emphasizing that Dolphin Tale is also playing in 2D.
Killer Elite is also based on a true story, and is a somewhat safe debut movie for distributor Open Road Films, considering star Jason Statham's fairly consistent track record. Outside of The Expendables (which was an ensemble), his recent openings have generally ranged from $9 to $13 million, with a few random outliers (Crank: High Voltage and The Bank Job) dragging down the average. Killer Elite's marketing does give off a B-movie, straight-to-video feel, which should be offset to a degree by the inclusion of Robert DeNiro and Clive Owen. Ultimately, a lower-end Statham debut seems reasonable.
In Box Office Mojo's "when will you see it" reader polling, Moneyball led with over 20 percent of users opting to see it on opening weekend. That's about even with last September's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps but way behind The Social Network (40 percent), which was inflated due to abnormal buzz within the online community.
Killer Elite scored over 13 percent for opening weekend, which is ahead of Statham's The Mechanic (11 percent) and Death Race (12.5 percent) but off from Transporter 3 (15.5 percent). Abduction tallied a 12 percent opening weekend figure, which is much worse than nearly all comparable on-the-run thrillers including Eagle Eye (40 percent) and I Am Number Four (24 percent). As is to be expected, Dolphin Tale finished in last with under 6 percent, which is less than The Blind Side (10.5 percent) but better than Hotel for Dogs (3.2 percent).
Weekend Forecast (Sept. 23-25) 1. Moneyball - $23 million 2. The Lion King - $17 million 3. Dolphin Tale - $13.5 million 4. Abduction - $12.5 million 5. Contagion - $8.8 million 6. Killer Elite - $8.7 million
Bar for Success With a superstar like Brad Pitt and a ubiquitous marketing campaign, Moneyball needs to at least break $20 million in its opening weekend. North of $15 million is a good target for Abduction, while Dolphin Tale and Killer Elite just need to get in to the double-digits to get a pass.