'Contagion' could stay #1 as 'Drive,' 'Straw Dogs' also open domestically

A 3D toon re-release may be the antidote to ‘Contagion,’ while three newcomers look for attention at the B.O. this weekend.

Bizzers are unsure of where to place their bets: Some box office pundits expect Disney’s 3D retrofit of “The Lion King” to reign supreme with a bow at around $12 million. Others say Warner Bros.’ current champ “Contagion,” with a cume of $26.3 million, could stay atop the domestic B.O., based on a projected drop of just 40% for a soph-sesh take of $13 million.

The top-tracking pics should have no trouble beating the weekend’s trio of new entries, led by FilmDistrict’s Ryan Gosling actioner

“Drive,” which is projected to bow in the low teens.

Sony’s R-rated remake “Straw Dogs,” from Screen Gems, and the Weinstein Co.’s femme-targeted comedy “I Don’t Know How She Does It” round out the wide releases, and should go head-to-head to hit $7 million to $9 million.

Meanwhile, overseas moviegoers are likely to continue to embrace Sony’s resilient holdover “The Smurfs,” which has cumed $322.8 million through Sept. 11. “The Smurfs” has won foreign B.O. for five straight weeks — a feat not achieved since “Avatar” — though Universal’s launch of “Johnny English Reborn” in 15 territories, including Australia and Russia, could unseat the toon hybrid. (“Reborn” bows Stateside on Oct. 28.)

Disney already released “The Lion King” in mostly Latin American territories, with the pic grossing $10.8 million, of which $8 million came from 3D. So far, Mexico has contributed the most, with $5.2 million, followed by Brazil, where the pic earned $1.9 million in 15 days. The Mouse plans to unveil the toon reboot next weekend in Australia.

“Contagion,” which last weekend scored a moribund B- CinemaScore rating, could see a drop similar to pics like “The Town” and “The Social Network,” which fell in their second outings by 34% and 31%, respectively.

Zippy advance ticket sales show that there’s healthy interest in “The Lion King” from a new generation of tykes and their parents, but higher 3D ticket prices could be a roadblock for some families. That’s why Disney decided to release “The Lion King” in both 2D and 3D — even though the film is being marketed as an exclusive two-week 3D event in advance of the film’s 3D DVD launch on Oct. 4.

Interestingly, the studio plans to have all 2,330 locations offer 3D, with exhibitors to decide on which showtime to screen either version.

During its original theatrical run in 1994, “The Lion King” cumed $312 million domestically, making it the fifth-highest grossing animated feature. The film has collected a total of $788 million worldwide, which includes $15 million from its Stateside re-release on Imax screens in 2002.

As last weekend hit the lowest B.O. point of the year, this weekend’s new wide releases aren’t likely to change the picture much.

“Straw Dogs,” toplining James Marsden, Alexander Skarsgard and Kate Bosworth, is based on the 1971 cult classic. Like “Straw Dogs,” some B.O. observers say “Drive” could be hurt by an R rating and excessive violence, particularly in smaller U.S. markets.

Both R-rated pics should attract a similar adult male demo, while the Weinstein Co.’s “I Don’t Know How She Does It” has a solid hold on females, particularly those older than 25. Based on a well-known British chicklit book, “I Don’t Know,” from helmer Douglas McGrath, is expected to bring in fans of star Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays a woman juggling the responsibilities of being a mom and an executive.

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics bows Gus Van Sant’s “Restless” at five locations in New York and L.A.

Strand Releasing’s German pic “3,” from helmer Tom Tykwer, also opens today in limited release, along with a pair of Sundance pics: docu “Connected: An Autobiography About Love, Death and Technology” and Magnolia’s Norwegian comedy “Happy, Happy.”

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