LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - The last time Disney raided its animation library and converted an old movie into 3D, it stunned the industry: the 17-year-old “The Lion King” opened to a startling $30 million in September.
Now, the studio is hoping to pull off a similar feat. On Friday, Disney breaks out a $10 million 3D-conversion of its 20-year-old “Beauty and the Beast,” with high hopes that it will be a box office beast.
The studio has a lot at stake. It wants to re-release “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo” and “The Little Mermaid” in 3D, and the performance of “Beauty and the Beast” could help gauge the wisdom of that idea.
Other studios are watching, too. Fox and Paramount are re-releasing a 3D version of James Cameron’s “Titanic” on April 6 and Fox is releasing a 3D version of “Star Wars: Episode One - The Phantom Menace” on February 10.
Such re-releases “are new opportunities - found money, if you will,” Dave Hollis, Disney’s head of distribution, told TheWrap.
But with Universal’s “Contraband” on track to be the No. 1 picture at the box office this weekend, Disney is tamping down expectations for its G-rated movie.
The studio will be happy with $15 million over the four-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Tracking has it taking just short of that.
Also opening this weekend is Alcon’s “Joyful Noise,” which is expected to perform well behind both “Contraband” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
Among specialty films, Tribeca opens the horror picture “Don’t Go In The Woods” and IFC debuts its drama “Albatross.”
Among holdovers, “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol” will show, in its fifth week in release, what kind of legs it has. And last weekend’s surprise box office king, “The Devil Inside,” will show what kind of legs it doesn’t have: Paramount’s low-budget horror film is expected to see its numbers drop significantly.
Most eyes this weekend are expected to be on “Contraband.” Mark Wahlberg’s first film since “The Fighter” looks to be the movie to beat.
Universal’s R-rated action picture is on track to gross somewhere in the mid-to-high teens in its debut weekend.
Nikki Rocco, the studio’s president of distribution, told TheWrap she hopes that the box office was re-energized by the surprise success of last week’s “The Devil Inside,” and will see solid numbers.
“I have high hopes that this will be a good weekend based on last weekend,” she said. “And I think that Mark Wahlberg as an action-thriller actor works for audiences.”
The movie, which cost about $25 million to make, is about a former smuggler who returns to crime in order to protect his brother-in-law, who has botched a drug deal for a ruthless boss.
Director Baltasar Kormakur made the movie, which has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 59 percent.
The audience tracking firm NRG Research says the movie has a high level of awareness: 79 percent of men younger than 25 and 82 percent of those older than 25 are aware of the movie - and 46 percent of younger men and 45 percent of the older ones report a “definite” interest in seeing it. The numbers are smaller among women: 53 percent of younger women and 73 percent of older ones are aware of the film, and 28 percent of younger ones and 38 percent of older ones say they are definitely interested in seeing it.
“Contraband” opens in 2,862 North American locations. “Beauty and the Beast,” which is opening at 2,625 locations, has extremely strong awareness, especially among women: 93 percent of women younger than 25 and 89 percent of those older than 25 are familiar with the movie.
And, according to NRG, they want to see it: 43 percent of younger women and 30 percent of older ones report “definite” interest in watching “Beauty.” The number of men reporting definite interest in seeing the movie is substantially lower: 13 percent of younger men and 14 percent of older ones say they definitely want to see it.
Disney’s hope is that the movie will capture two audiences - families in the daytime and adults on dates at night. The movie’s spectacular 91 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating gives Disney hope that the movie can draw adults as well as kiddies.
While tracking has the movie taking in $12 million over three days and $14.5 over four, it is notoriously hard to accurately predict numbers in the family movie genre, where success often hinges on the “nag factor” of young children.
One other factor working in “Beauty’s” favor is the holiday weekend: 15 percent of schools are closed on Friday and 91 percent are closed on Monday.
“That is part of the reason we picked the weekend,” Hollis said. “Extra time of not having school for the families.” That could also drive audiences to “Joyful Noise,” which Warner Bros. is releasing for Alcon.
According to NRG, though, the PG-rated faith-based musical starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah has better awareness levels than “Contraband” - but lower numbers of people who report “definite” interest in seeing it.
While 40 percent of those polled say they definitely want to see “Contraband,” only 26 percent said they have “definite” interest in seeing “Joyful Noise.”
Todd Graff directed the movie about a small-town choir that wants to win a national competition. It had a budget in the low $30 million range and has a Rotten Tomatoes score is 41 percent.
It opens at 2,735 locations.
With four movies opening in wide release next weekend, this could be the last weekend that DreamWorks’ “War Horse” and Fox’s “We Bought a Zoo” are in the top 10 at the box office.
Editing by Chris Michaud