Walt Disney's "The Lion King" reissue was No. 1 for the second-straight weekend with $22.1 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. That puts it just ahead of Pitt's baseball drama "Moneyball," a Sony Pictures release that opened at No. 2 with $20.6 million.
Debuting closely behind at No. 3 was the Warner Bros. family film "Dolphin Tale" with $20.3 million. "Dolphin Tale" stars Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.
The 3-D reissue of 1994's "The Lion King" has taken in $61.7 million since opening the previous weekend to a much bigger audience than expected. That's on top of nearly $800 million worldwide the movie made in its original run and a 2002 re-release.
The film has done so well that Disney plans to leave it in theaters longer than the two-week run the studio initially planned as a prelude to its Blu-ray home-video debut Oct. 4, said Dave Hollis, Disney's head of distribution.
The studio has not yet decided how long or how widely the film would play theatrically after the Blu-ray release, Hollis said.
"Consumers I think will be happy to consume it in multiple ways for this kind of franchise, as they have for the last 17 years," Hollis said.
"The Lion King" held up well despite a rush of four new wide releases this weekend.
"Twilight" co-star Taylor Lautner's action tale "Abduction" opened at No. 4 with $11.2 million. The Lionsgate release casts Lautner as a teen hurtled into a world of espionage as he tries to uncover the mystery of his past.
Another action thriller, Open Road Films' "Killer Elite," debuted at No. 5 with $9.5 million. The movie stars Jason Statham, Robert De Niro and Clive Owen as special-ops assassins caught up in a global revenge scheme.
"Moneyball" stars Pitt as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, who shook up the baseball world when his tight budget forced him to look for new ways to scout players. Jonah Hill co-stars as an economist who helps turn the A's into a contender using statistical methods that identify undervalued athletes.
With good reviews and Academy Awards buzz for Pitt and his "Moneyball" teammates, Sony hopes the film will stick around in theaters well into the fall.
It was a solid start for a film that looked dead in the water after Sony benched a previous version of "Moneyball" just days before shooting was to start in 2009.
That incarnation would have been made by Pitt's pal Steven Soderbergh, who directed him in the "Ocean's Eleven" movies. But Sony pulled the plug in a squabble with Soderbergh over the script.
Soderbergh departed, but Pitt stuck with it, determined to bring Michael Lewis' best-seller "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" to the screen.
Much of the book dealt with the number-crunching sabermetrics system Beane adopted. To bring out the drama, Sony hired Aaron Sorkin, an Oscar winner for his screenplay on "The Social Network," to rework a script whose previous scribes included Steven Zaillian, an Oscar winner for "Schindler's List."
Bennett Miller, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind "Capote," was brought in to direct. Pitt also is a producer on the film.
"It wasn't the easiest code to crack. You had this really great book, but to translate it wasn't necessarily the easiest thing," said Rory Bruer, Sony's head of distribution. "You really needed people who believed in it, like Brad, and writers who understood it, and a director to really make it something very visual and compelling for folks to see."
"Dolphin Tale" managed a solid start despite unexpected competition for family audiences from "The Lion King." Based on a true story, "Dolphin Tale" centers on a group of strangers who come together to save an injured dolphin.
"The Lion King," "Moneyball" and "Dolphin Tale" managed a rare feat for typically quiet September, all finishing above $20 million for the weekend.
Hollywood's overall revenues came in at $122 million, up 21 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" led with $19 million, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
"This is one of the strongest September weekends I've ever seen," said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "'Lion King' got people in the mood to go back to movies, especially the family audience, and look at the combination of that one and `Dolphin Tale.' It shows that family audiences are willing to go to the movies whether it's summer or fall."
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. "The Lion King," $22.1 million ($1.9 million
2. "Moneyball," $20.6 million.
3. "Dolphin Tale," $20.3 million.
4. "Abduction," $11.2 million.
5. "Killer Elite," $9.5 million.
6. "Contagion," $8.6 million.
7. "Drive," $5.8 million.
8. "The Help," $4.4 million ($1.1 million international).
9. "Straw Dogs," $2.1 million.
10. "I Don't Know How She Does It," $2.05 million.
Estimated weekend ticket sales at international theaters
(excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to Rentrak:
1. "The Smurfs," $12.9 million.
2. "Friends with Benefits," $9.7 million.
3. "Johnny English Reborn," $7.4 million.
4. "Final Destination 5," $6.6 million.
5. "Crazy, Stupid, Love," $6.2 million.
6. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," $5.8 million.
7. "Horrible Bosses," $3.1 million.
8. "Abduction," $2.9 million.
9. "The Change-Up," $2.2 million.
10. "The Lion King," $1.9 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.