By John Young
Updated September 22, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Melinda Sue Gordon

My box-office umpiring skills are really being put to the test here, as this weekend is particularly tough to call. There are four new movies stepping up to the plate, three of which have a legitimate shot at winning the pennant. (Okay, I’ll limit the baseball puns from here on out, although please allow me this one aside: Go Angels!) I’m placing my money on, well, Moneyball, which should benefit from Brad Pitt’s Hollywood star appeal and the film’s superb reviews. But watch out for last week’s champion The Lion King 3D, as well as newcomers Dolphin Tale and Abduction.

Here are my predictions for the top five:

1. Moneyball: $19 million

Sony’s $50 million sports drama has, at the time of this writing, earned the strongest reviews of any wide release so far this year — and that should attract a sizable adult crowd. Based on Michael Lewis’ bestselling nonfiction book of the same name, Moneyball stars Brad Pitt as the real-life Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane. The PG-13 movie documents Beane’s implementation of sabermetrics, or using baseball statistics instead of more traditional methods (like scouting reports) to discover undervalued players.

As someone who spent 10 percent of his childhood examining the newspaper’s box scores, Moneyball is pretty much my ultimate dream movie. But Sony has recognized that the subject matter may seem dry to many moviegoers. As a result, the studio has tailored its advertising to focus on Pitt’s charisma. That’s a wise move, as Pitt’s opening-weekend average for wide-release films is a solid $24 million. Moneyball has a shot at that figure, although I think it’ll fall a bit short. Instead, it should be aiming for the 2006 comedy The Benchwarmers, which currently holds the best opening for a baseball film ($19.7 million).

2. The Lion King 3D: $17 million

The re-released Disney classic surprised everyone by grossing an impressive $30.2 million last weekend. But with the animated movie’s new Blu-ray hitting stores in less than two weeks on Oct. 4, The Lion King might drop a bit more than popular family films typically do. Also, Dolphin Tale will steal some of the picture’s audience. I’m thinking Simba and company should be prepared for a mild decline of about 45 percent.

3. Dolphin Tale: $16 million

Touted as “from the studio and producers of The Blind Side,” the based-on-real-life inspirational drama has the potential to be a sleeper hit. Reviews have been generally positive, and Warner Bros. has done a commendable job marketing the $37 million film as feel-good entertainment for the entire family. The PG-rated movie, about a boy who rescues an injured dolphin and encourages those around him to build the mammal a prosthetic tale, is screening in 3-D at 2,700 theaters.

4. Abduction: $15 million

Built as a star vehicle for The Twilight Saga‘s Taylor Lautner, this John Singleton action film — made by Lionsgate for around $35 million — is so far receiving abysmal reviews. However, that won’t matter to Lautner’s teenage girl fanbase, which will likely single-handedly determine how well the movie performs. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have struggled to find much success beyond the Twilight franchise, but they have opted for riskier projects while Lautner is playing it safe with the PG-13 Abduction. It probably won’t reach Shia LaBeouf’s numbers for Eagle Eye ($29.2 million) and Disturbia ($22.2 million), but a debut in the mid-teens should be seen as a victory for Team Jacob.

5. Killer Elite: $11 million

This $66 million action thriller is the first feature being released by Open Road Films, a partnership between the AMC and Regal theater chains. Despite the presence of Robert De Niro and Clive Owen, Jason Statham is the star of the R-rated Killer Elite, and the actor typically averages a little more than $10 million on opening weekend. His last live-action film, January’s The Mechanic, debuted to $11.4 million. I expect the same modest tally this time around, especially considering Killer Elite‘s mediocre reviews.