When the most anticipated movie of the weekend wasn’t reviewed for critics as is barely expected to crack ten million, yeah, we’re in the dog days. Dream House – which wasn’t screened for critics – could lead the pack of new films, and The Lion King looks to end its two week run at the top of the charts, which means we may see Dolphin Tale climb to the top slot. Or perhaps Moneyball, or… forget it Jake, it’s September.

The big winner this weekend is going to be a film called Courageous. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s because it wasn’t marketed for anyone but it’s target audience, much like the Kirk Cameron film Fireproof. And it’s from the same creators. Subtly, we’ve seen more and more successful pictures that are pitched to religous audiences – much of Dolphin Tale‘s success and Soul Surfer‘s are due to a campaign that didn’t go for ad placement during sports shows or hit sitcoms. As a business model this is very exciting for the industry, but throughout the last forty years, we’ve sene numerous films do well by targeting an audience that was hungry to go to the movies, but didn’t respond to the big names. From Easy Rider and Superfly to Tyler Perry, there are  numbers of films that have worked well by playing to a base. It doesn’t always work, but for a film like Courageous to do over five million is a big win for the film.

Dream House is being dumped by its studio and runs 92 minutes. It’s got names across the board – Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts – and was directed by Jim Sheridan, who used to be an Oscar-friendly filmmaker. It runs 92 minutes and is coming out a little early for the Halloween season, which in film terms usually says it all. Still, it’s short enough and with enough famous people to do not terrible business.

I thought 50/50 was a solid piece of work that would have benefited only from an adjustment to a character that was a little too arch for the film, but I think it plays. It’s both funny and touching, but the question is if the people like who like the stars of the film (Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) will turn out for an emotional roller coaster. I think the studio has been smart in telling audiences the results of the film, but this may be the worst or the best date-night movie ever. Films like this tend to work better when they have Oscar chances or are aimed at women. Perhaps if sports had somehow been involved. It may do the best out of the new releases, but only just.

What’s Your Number is another off season effort. Anna Farris has shown she can carry a Hollywood comedy, and Chris Evans is coming off his biggest solo hit with Captain America, and yet… late September. Off season is sometimes good for a rom-com, but they tend to go with near-Valentine’s day releases for more synergy. Basically, now is the best time for studios to release products they’re unsure of because with less competition, it makes sense to hope that people just want to go to a movie. If a film is set to be counter-programming during the busy months, it will often die that much faster – which is sometimes the goal (studios often hate the films they make). To release a film now suggests that either you’re going for a word of mouth appeal (like 50/50) or you can’t punch your weight.

So let’s top five it:

  1. Dolphin Tale – $14 Million
  2. Moneyball – $13.5 Million
  3. The Lion King – $11.7 Million
  4. 50/50 – $10.2 Million
  5. Dream House - $9.5 Million

Nothing’s really charting heavy, so it’s possible either Courageous or What’s Your Number could jump into the top five, and it’s also possible that Dream House dies a quick death even with the talent involved. It’s hard to know if this will hurt Daniel Craig any more than Cowboys and Aliens did. Next week brings Real Steel. That’s going to be fascinating.