By Grady Smith
September 17, 2011 at 04:11 PM EDT

Remember that incredibly groundbreaking, culturally defining post I wrote earlier this week about moviegoers not liking crocodiles? Well, that same mentality doesn’t apply to lions — especially not cute, animated Disney lions. Those are box-office gold.

The Lion King 3D trounced all expectations and debuted to a stunning $8.8 million on Friday. If the re-released picture performs similarly to Disney’s 2009 Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3-D re-release (which started with $3.3 million on Friday but earned $12.5 million over the full Friday-to-Sunday period), it will easily break the $30 million plateau by the frame’s end, becoming just the fifth September release in box-office history to do so.

Contagion, now in its sophomore frame, came in second place with a strong $4.6 million, a drop of just 42 percent from last Friday. The disease thriller seems to be overcoming its tepid “B-” CinemaScore grade, and it could reach about $14.5 million this weekend.

Drive did the best of the true newcomers with $4 million on Friday, though a third-place start isn’t breaking any speed limits. The well-reviewed Ryan Gosling thriller may finish the weekend with $11-12 million. Straw Dogs started in fourth place with $2 million, and is heading towards $5.5 million over three days. The Help‘s $1.9 million Friday was close behind. In sixth, Sarah Jessica Parker’s latest rom-com I Don’t Know How She Does It stumbled out of the gate with a weak $1.6 million on the way to a likely $4.5 million weekend.

1. The Lion King 3D — $8.8 mil

2. Contagion — $4.6 mil

3. Drive — $4.0 mil

4. Straw Dogs — $2.0 mil

5. The Help — $1.9 mil

6. I Don’t Know Who She Does It — $1.6 mil

Check back tomorrow for the full box office report, and for up-to-the-minute box office updates, follow me on Twitter @BoxOfficeJunkie!

Read more:

Box office preview: ‘The Lion King 3D’ hopes to reign over ‘Contagion,’ ‘Drive,’ and ‘Straw Dogs’