LOS ANGELES – A dolphin has dethroned "The Lion King" at the weekend box office.
The Warner Bros. family film "Dolphin Tale" held up well with $14.2 million in its second weekend to take the No. 1 spot from "The Lion King," the Disney reissue that had been the top movie for the past two weekends.
"The Lion King" slipped to third place with $11.1 million, just behind Sony's Brad Pitt baseball tale "Moneyball," which was No. 2 in its second weekend with $12.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"Dolphin Tale" features Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman in a real-life story about strangers who team up to help an injured dolphin. The movie had debuted a week earlier at No. 3, closely behind "The Lion King" and "Moneyball," but it earned good word-of-mouth that kept fans coming.
"There's just something about a dolphin," said Jeff Goldstein, general sales manager for Warner Bros. "It just looks interesting, and it looks wholesome and compelling and fun."
The three holdover films held off a rush of new wide releases. In a photo finish for the No. 4 spot were Summit Entertainment's cancer comic drama "50/50," starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, with $8.85 million and Sony's Christian-themed police drama "Courageous" with $8.8 million.
Debuting at No. 6 with $8.2 million was Universal's "Dream House," a fright flick starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts. The weekend's other new wide release, the 20th Century Fox romantic comedy "What's Your Number?" starring Anna Faris and Chris Evans, flopped at No. 8 with $5.6 million.
It was an unusual weekend when carry-over films continued to rule the market, with family crowds particularly strong.
"Normally, fall is when you get Oscar contenders and R-rated, more-challenging films," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "But now looking at `Lion King' and `Dolphin Tale,' that says summer is not the only time when family audiences want to go to the movies."
"Dolphin Tale" raised its total to $37.5 million, while "Moneyball" lifted its domestic haul to $38.5 million. "The Lion King" has pulled in $79.7 million in its 3-D re-release, adding to the nearly $800 million worldwide the animated blockbuster earned in its original 1994 run and a 2002 reissue.
It also was an unusually uplifting weekend for Hollywood, with "Dolphin Tale" and the rest of the top-five movies all telling inspirational stories.
"Moneyball" stars Pitt as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, who beat the odds and built a contending team on a tiny budget. "The Lion King" remains one of the great animated sagas as a wrongly exiled cub returns to triumph over his wicked uncle.
"50/50" chronicles the stirring trials of a patient (Gordon-Levitt) fighting cancer with fierce spirit and great humor. "Courageous," from the makers of the Christian-themed films "Fireproof" and "Facing the Giants," follows four policemen struggling to stick to their faith in God on the job and at home.
Marketed heavily to church groups, "Courageous" brought in its crowds in a relatively narrow release of 1,161 theaters. The other top-10 movies ranged from 2,340 to 3,515 theaters.
"The competition was pretty steep with all these inspirational-type films, but it still succeeded in such a big way," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony.
In limited release, a long-delayed film with "True Blood" star Anna Paquin failed to find much of an audience. "Margaret," starring Paquin as a teen caught in a moral crisis over her culpability in a fatal traffic accident, pulled in a scant $7,496 from two theaters, averaging $3,748 a cinema.
That compares to $7,580 a theater for "Courageous," which had the best average among the top-10 films.
"Margaret," whose cast also includes Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo and Matthew Broderick, was shot in 2005 then delayed by lawsuits involving director Kenneth Lonergan ("You Can Count on Me") and distributor Fox Searchlight over the final cut of the film.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "Dolphin Tale," $14.2 million.
2. "Moneyball," $12.5 million.
3. "The Lion King," $11.1 million ($1.8 million international).
4. "50/50," $8.85 million.
5. "Courageous," $8.8 million.
6. "Dream House," $8.2 million.
7. "Abduction," $5.65 million.
8. "What's Your Number?", $5.6 million.
9. "Contagion," $5 million.
10. "Killer Elite," $4.9 million.