By John Young
September 24, 2011 at 06:36 PM EDT

Moneyball won the opening game but will likely lose the weekend series. The $50 million baseball drama, starring Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, led the pack on Friday by grossing an estimated $6.8 million. That places the PG-13 movie, which has earned some of the most glowing reviews of the year, on track for a solid $19 million weekend. Moneyball also has a shot of beating 2006’s The Benchwarmers, which currently holds the best debut for a baseball movie with $19.7 million.

But despite its Friday victory, Moneyball will probably fall behind The Lion King 3D by the end of today. Disney’s animated classic slid only 32 percent from last Friday — a remarkable hold considering that the 1994 film is being released on Blu-ray in a little more than a week. The Hakuna Matata gang pulled in $6.1 million on Friday and should receive a big Saturday bump thanks to family audiences, putting it on pace for a $23 million weekend. By Sunday night, The Lion King 3D will have tallied a cumulative gross of around $62 million, making one wonder if Disney will truly pull the film after two weeks like initially planned.

In third place was another family film, the new inspirational based-on-real-life drama Dolphin Tale, which swam away with $5.1 million on Friday. The PG-rated movie became the third release this year to garner an “A+” rating from CinemaScore audiences — the other two were Soul Surfer and The Help. That bodes well for the $37 million picture’s staying power, and like The Lion King 3D, it should see a nice family-fueled bump today. Dolphin Tale will finish the weekend with about $18 million.

The week’s two other new releases, the action films Abduction and Killer Elite, performed only modestly. The former, starring The Twilight Saga‘s Taylor Lautner in his first headlining role, collected $3.8 million on Friday. That puts the $35 million movie on track for a less-than-expected $10 million opening. The R-rated Killer Elite, which cost $66 million to produce and features Jason Statham as an assassin-killing assassin, earned $3.5 million on Friday. It should also finish the weekend with about $10 million, meaning Lautner and Statham will be fighting one another for fourth place. I give the edge to Killer Elite, since Abduction may be a bit more front-loaded due to Lautner’s teen-girl fanbase.

In limited release, the Gerard Butler action film Machine Gun Preacher mustered only $10,000 at four theaters. Check back here on Sunday for the complete box-office report.

1. Moneyball — $6.8 mil

2. The Lion King 3D — $6.1 mil

3. Dolphin Tale — $5.1 mil

4. Abduction — $3.8 mil

5. Killer Elite — $3.5 mil

Box office preview: Moneyball favored to win in an extra-innings nail-biter