LOS ANGELES -- It's 1994 all over again, with a re-release of "The Lion King" opening at the top of the box office.
A 3-D version of the wildly popular Disney animated musical earned a surprising $29.3 million in its first weekend in theaters, according to Sunday estimates. The original film made more than $40 million when it opened nationwide 17 years ago.
This huge number stunned many people, including the folks at Disney, who figured "The Lion King" would make somewhere between $10 million and $12 million, said Dave Hollis, the studio's executive vice president of distribution.
He said the movie remains relevant and as entertaining as it was when it first came out.
"But taking a page from the movie, there is a `circle of life' thing happening," he said, referring to one of the film's themes. "You have children of the `90s who are now parents of the 2010s and they themselves are taking their kids to share what was, for them, a great experience two decades ago."
It also helps that there aren't many options for families at the multiplex right now, said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com.
"The post-summer period brings a preponderance of R-rated films and more challenging, esoteric, Oscar-caliber fare," he said. "For kids this is like a dream come true and for parents to be able to revisit `The Lion King' -- especially in 3-D, even though 3-D has taken a bad rap over the past year -- just tells you the power that this movie has, how strong it resonates with people."
Hollis said that while the film was also available in 2-D, 92 percent of the opening weekend's business came from 3-D showings.
The story of a wrongly exiled lion prince (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a cub and Matthew Broderick as an adult) who must return home to claim his throne, "The Lion King" was the second-highest-grossing film of 1994, behind "Forrest Gump."
It ranks fourth on the all-time animated list with over $784 million. It earned Academy Awards for Hans Zimmer's original score and for original song for Elton John and Tim Rice's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight."
Last week's No. 1 movie, Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion," dropped a spot in its second weekend. The Warner Bros. viral thriller made about $14.5 million for a total of $44.2 million.
Among the other new releases, the critical darling "Drive" came in at No. 3 with just over $11 million. Ryan Gosling stars as a stoic wheelman in the retro action picture from FilmDistrict.
"Straw Dogs," a remake of the 1971 Sam Peckinpah thriller from Sony Screen Gems, opened in fifth place with only $5 million. It stars James Marsden and Kate Bosworth as a married couple under siege in the rural South.
"I Don't Know How She Does It," based on the best-seller of the same name, came in at No. 6 with just $4.5 million. The Weinstein Co. comedy stars Sarah Jessica Parker as a wife and mother of two struggling to balance her home life with her demanding job.
Dergarabedian said such disappointing showings aren't all that surprising this time of year. Last weekend was the slowest so far this year at the box office.
"It's been tough marketplace for wide releases. The newcomers are being met with some indifference," he said. "The audience was obviously a family audience that took over the multiplex this weekend."
Estimated weekend takes:
1. "The Lion King 3D," $29.3 million. ($700,000 international.)
2. "Contagion," $14.5 million. ($1.3 million international.)
3. "Drive," $11 million.
4. "The Help," $6.4 million. ($1.1 million international.)
5. "Straw Dogs," $5 million.
6. "I Don't Know How She Does It," $4.5 million. ($800,000 international.)
7. "The Debt," $2.9 million. ($1 million international.)
8. "Warrior," $2.8 million. ($400,000 international.)
9. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," $2.6 million.
10. "Colombiana," $2.3 million.