'Real Steel' may be your typical underdog tale (aside from the giant robots), but it didn't behave like an underdog at the box office. Hugh Jackman's brawling-'bots saga came out swinging and easily knocked all rivals out of contention, surprising no one with its estimated $27.3 million victory. George Clooney's Oscar-baiting drama 'The Ides of March' also did about as well as expected, debuting in second place with an estimated $10.4 million.

'Real Steel' entered the ring a heavy favorite. Its plot combined the macho robotics of 'Transformers' with the tear-jerking heart of boxing dramas like 'Rocky' and 'The Champ,' it was directed by Shawn Levy (whose 'Night at the Museum' movies display his expertise with both family films and special-effects blockbusters), it had no real competition for the mainstream action audience, it had a handful of IMAX screens in its corner and it reminded nostalgic adults of the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots toys they had as kids. The only questions were whether the movie's just-okay reviews could overpower its strong word-of-mouth and whether Jackman could open a movie without unsheathing Wolverine's claws. Turns out they couldn't, and he could.


'Ides of March' also had to weather less-than-ideal reviews, which are much more important to a smaller-scale, Oscar-hopeful drama seeking to attract an older adult audience. Plus, the movie is about presidential campaign politics, a topic that can make eyes glaze over and throats gag. Still, the movie did well in the popular vote, earning positive word-of-mouth. And there's no denying the heartthrob appeal of Clooney and Ryan Gosling (in his third movie in three months). Studio exit polling showed the film's audience was 58 percent female.

Last week's winner, 'Dolphin Tale,' was still the biggest family movie around that didn't feature aggressive androids. In its third weekend, the film slipped a modest 34 percent to an estimated $9.2 million, landing in third place and bringing its total to date to $49.1 million.

'Moneyball' also held up well in its third weekend. Despite competition from 'Real Steel' for sports movie fans and from 'Ides of March' for thoughtful Oscar-type drama fans, Brad Pitt's brainy baseball movie fell just 38 percent to an estimated $7.5 million. The fourth-place finisher's three-week total is $49.3 million.

The closest thing to an upset was in the battle for the No. 5 spot. According to pundits, it was going to be a cage match between the four-week-old re-release of 'The Lion King' (grabbing the family viewers for whom 'Real Steel' was too violent) and the two-week-old 'Courageous' (grabbing the faith-based audience for whom 'Real Steel' had too many cuss words). Apparently, both canceled each other out, allowing cancer comedy '50/50' to sneak in and grab fifth place with an estimated $5.5 million. That's down just 36 percent from last week's premiere and gives the film a total of $17.3 million to date. 'Courageous' settled for sixth place with an estimated $4.6 million, edging out 'Lion King' by just $48,000.

After a strong September, box office for October is just a hair (about $3 million) behind last October's take, even though this weekend's movies earned a combined $2 million more than the same weekend last year. The total take so far for 2011 is still about $300 million (3.2 percent) behind the same period in 2010 ($8.0 billion to $8.3 billion).

'Real Steel' - Trailer No. 2

The full top 10:
1. 'Real Steel,' $27.3 million (3,440 screens), new release
2. 'The Ides of March,' $10.4 million (2,199), new release
3. 'Dolphin Tale,' $9.2 million (3,478), $49.1 million total
4. 'Moneyball,' $7.5 million (3,018), $49.3 million
5. '50/50,' $5.5 million (2,479), $17.3 million
6. 'Courageous,' $4.60 million (1,161), $15.9 million
7. 'The Lion King,' $4.55 million (2,267), $86.0 million
8. 'Dream House,' $4.50 million (2,664), $14.5 million
9. 'What's Your Number?', $3.1 million (3,011), $10.3 million
10. 'Abduction,' $2.9 million (2,591), $23.4 million

[Photos: DreamWorks, Sony Pictures]

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