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Box office preview: 'The Lion King' defends its throne against four newcomers on busy weekend

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Lion King
Everett Collection

Simba always said, “I’m gonna be a mighty king, so enemies beware!” I always figured he was talking about Pride Rock — who knew he was actually talking about the box office?!

For the last two weekends, The Lion King 3D has been an unstoppable force at theaters, and it has racked up an impressive $66.4 million in just 13 days. Despite the arrival of four new releases last frame, Lion King managed to retain its box office throne, but will it be able to do the same thing this weekend, when four more new releases — 50/50, Dream House, What’s Your Number?, and Courageous — hit theaters? It could be a very close battle, as six different films have a legitimate shot at coming in first place. Who will reign supreme?

Check out my weekend box office predictions after the jump:

1. The Lion King 3D – $14.5 million

After two weekends of shockingly strong returns, Disney extended the theatrical release and even added ten theaters to The Lion King 3D‘s run — it’s now playing in 2,340 theaters! Given the fact that it only dropped 27 percent last weekend, the crowd pleaser should see a scant decline this time around as well. Some analysts are saying that the fact that this is coming out on Blu-ray in two weeks will diminish its theatrical appeal, but I truly doubt audiences care — The Lion King has become an event film of sorts. Give it $14.5 million weekend and another first place finish.

2. Dolphin Tale – $13 million

The family film, which earned an impressive “A+” CinemaScore grade, performed swimmingly last weekend, earning $19.2 million, and it has an outside shot at surpassing The Lion King for first place this time around. Dolphin Tale‘s weekday numbers (about $800,000 a day vs. The Lion King‘s daily $1.7 million) show that it is playing to some major youngsters, so look for it to make some big jumps over the weekend, when school is not a conflict. Audiences love the film (the theme of the whole frame is feel-good movies!), and Dolphin Tale should fall by a slim 35 percent, giving it a terrific $13 million in its second frame.

3. Moneyball – $11.7 million

Oddly enough, the Brad Pitt baseball drama’s biggest competition may be… baseball! As the MLB postseason kicks off on Friday, hardcore ballpark fans may choose to stay in front of the TV this weekend rather than head out to the theater. Still, any negative effect from the playoffs should be offset by Moneyball‘s strong reviews and feel-good story. A 40 percent drop would give the film a sturdy $11.7 million.

4. Courageous – $11 million

You might not have heard of this Christian-themed film, but it could post some surprisingly huge numbers over this weekend. (Hell Heaven, it may even win!) Courageous, a film about four police officers struggling to be better fathers, was produced by Sherwood Pictures, the same studio that created Kirk Cameron’s marriage drama Fireproof, a $500,000 movie that opened to $6.8 million and earned $33.4 million total in 2008. This time around, distributor TriStar is targeting the same churchgoing audiences that made Fireproof such a success, and based on ticket pre-sales, they definitely have another hit on their hands. According to Fandango, the micro-budgeted Courageous was the number one seller heading into the weekend, accounting for 18 percent of all ticket sales on Thursday. The film has already earned at least $2 million from advanced sales, which is more than double what Fireproof had earned from its pre-release sales. Though Courageous is only playing in 1,161 theaters, I expect its niche audience to help it earn a strong $11 million.

5. 50/50 – $10 million

This poignant buddy-dramedy starring the super-hip Joseph Gordon Levitt and funny man Seth Rogen has gotten a major promotional push over the last two weeks, and it’s been pulling in terrific reviews. These factors should help the film succeed this weekend. Still, we can’t forget that 50/50 is a movie about cancer. As The Lion King and Dolphin Tale showed us last weekend, audiences tend to prefer happy endings and smiling faces, so we shouldn’t expect 50/50 to post gigantic numbers, but, really, it doesn’t need to. The Summit film was made for just $8 million, and if it can carve out a solid debut, strong word-of-mouth should help it endure over the next few weeks. Out in 2,458 theaters, 50/50 could gross $10 million.

6. Dream House – $9.5 million

Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz’s creepy thriller just never really got the buzz machine going, did it? Maybe it’s because they won’t talk about their recent stealth wedding, or maybe its because Universal wouldn’t screen the film for critics (never a good sign) — either way, there doesn’t seem to be much excitement for Dream House. Fortunately for the film, the horror genre is a consistent one with teens, and the wide theater count of 2,660 should provide ample accessibility. Unfortunately for the film, Daniel Craig, outside of the Bond franchise, is kind of box office poison. (And before you get angry about that label, just look at the box office returns for The Golden Compass, The Invasion, and Cowboys and Aliens — then we can talk.) It might scare up $9.5 million this weekend.

Also opening this weekend is Fox’s What’s Your Number?, a comedy starring Anna Faris and Chris Evans, which is playing in 3,002 theaters. The film has been earning weak reviews overall (will Anna Faris ever find a project that deserves her comic wit?), and tracking suggests that it’s headed to a lackluster frame. It may earn $7 million this weekend.

Follow Grady on Twitter: @EWGradySmith and on Google+

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