Winter the dolphin may have no tail, but she has legs at the box office. 'Dolphin Tale,' which opened at No. 3 last week, swam to first place with an estimated $14.2 million. That was enough not only to dethrone the 3D re-release of 'The Lion King' after two weeks, but also to outperform all four of this weekend's new wide release movies: '50/50,' 'Courageous,' 'Dream House' and 'What's Your Number?'
'Dolphin Tale' did a little better than the $13 million or so that pundits had predicted. In retrospect, its victory isn't that surprising. It's playing in more venues (3,515) than any other movie, its only competition for family viewers is 'Lion King,' and it has excellent reviews and word-of-mouth. Its decline from last week's business is just 26 percent. Its two-weekend total is $37.5 million.
'Moneyball' held on to second place with an estimated $12.5 million, down just 35 percent from last weekend. Like 'Dolphin Tale,' Brad Pitt's baseball drama is enjoying strong reviews and word-of-mouth. Its ten-day total is $38.5 million. (Click here to read Moviefone's review.)
'Lion King' swapped places with 'Dolphin Tale' to land at No. 3 with $11.1 million, half of last weekend's take. The stunningly successful re-release has earned $79.7 million in three weeks. The Disney classic's lifetime domestic total is $408.2 million; another $7 million, and it'll surpass 'Toy Story 3' to become the second most successful animated movie of all time.
In a three-way race for fourth place were new movies '50/50,' 'Courageous,' and 'Dream House,' which finished so close together that their actual rankings may not be known until final figures are released on Monday. Weekend studio estimates placed '50/50' in fourth place with $8.85 million. Predictions had the movie opening around $10 million, thanks to good reviews and relentless promotion by stars Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Still, $8.85 million isn't bad for a comedy about such a grim topic as cancer.
'Courageous' claimed receipts just $50,000 behind those of '50/50.' Made by the filmmakers who made a hit out of 'Fireproof' three years ago, it's a similar low-budget indie drama about cops and fatherhood, targeted to a faith-based and regional audience. Already, the film, which premiered on just 1,161 screens, has opened stronger than 'Fireproof' (which debuted with $6.8 million, toward an eventual $33.4 million). Its per-screen average of $7,580 was the best of any wide-release movie this week.
'Dream House' opened with an estimated $8.2 million. Like '50/50,' 'Dream House' was expected to open above $10 million, but it suffered from poor advance buzz, weak reviews, negative word-of-mouth, and the failure of its stars (newlyweds Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz) and its studio (Universal) to do much to promote it.
The weekend's fourth new movie, 'What's Your Number?' opened in eighth place with only $5.6 million, according to estimates. (The No. 7 movie, 'Abduction,' came in only $50,000 higher, so the movies may swap places when final figures are released on Monday.) The Anna Faris comedy underperformed even its pessimistic predictions of $7 million, likely because of mediocre reviews and word-of-mouth.
Overall, this was a slack weekend at the box office, with just $102 million in total receipts, though that's 4.4 percent better than the same weekend last year. For the first nine months of the year, 2011 is still 3.3 percent behind the same period last year ($7.8 billion, compared to $8.1 billion).
The full top 10:
1. 'Dolphin Tale,' $14.2 million (3,515 screens), $37.5 million total
2. 'Moneyball,' $12.5 million (2,993), $38.5 million
3. 'The Lion King,' $11.1 million (2,340), $79.7 million
4. '50/50,' $8.85 million (2,458), new release
5. 'Courageous,' $8.80 million (1,161), new release
6. 'Dream House,' $8.2 million (2,661), new release
7. 'Abduction,' $5.65 million (3,118), $19.1 million
8. 'What's Your Number?', $5.60 million (3,002), new release
9. 'Contagion,' $5.0 million (2,744), $64.7 million
10. 'Killer Elite,' $4.9 million (2,986), $17.3 million
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.
Photo credits: Warner Bros. ('Dolphin Tale'), Summit Entertainment ('50/50'), TriStar Pictures ('Courageous'), Universal ('Dream House'), 20th Century Fox ('What's Your Number?')