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17 years ago, Disney's The Lion King was a box office phenomenon and, if Friday's numbers are any indication, The Lion King has roared back to the top of the box office in 3D at No. 1.

In one of the biggest surprises of the year, the limited release of The Lion King 3D pulled in $8.8 million on Friday - far ahead of what pre-release polling indicated. If it continues on that path, the film could net $22-23 million in its opening weekend.

Families turned out in full force to see the 3D conversion of the 1994 animated classic (though some theaters are simply playing it in 2D). The release was largely intended to promote the Oct. 4 release of the Blu-Ray edition of the film, but the theatrical run is taking on a life of its own.

Defying all projections, the film easily claimed the top spot over three new films: Drive, I Don't Know How She Does It, and Straw Dogs.

Drive, grossing an estimated $4 million for the day, fared best. However, Warner Bros. holdover thriller Contagion came in at No. 2. The Steven Soderbergh film is expected to stay in the No. 2 spot throughout the weekend with a gross of nearly $13 million.

Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, is likely to come in at No. 3, with a weekend gross of $11 million, while Straw Dogs and I Don't' Know How She Does It sluggishly round out the pack at $5 or $6 million.

Meanwhile, critic and audience favorite The Help, remains strong after several weeks in theaters.

Since its debut in 1994, The Lion King has grossed a remarkable $788.2 million globally. It is the highest grossing hand-drawn animated film of all time and is credited with ushering in what is known as the Disney Renaissance. The show spawned a highly successful Broadway production and several television knock-offs.

The Lion King 3D is performing far better than the Disney re-release of Toy Story 2 3D, which earned just $3.3 million on its first day in 2009.

Many credit the success of The Lion King re-release to the fact that the generation who grew up with the beloved animated film now have kids of their own who they can take to the theater to share the experience.

If The Lion King 3D continues on its track, it could become one of the top five grossing movies in box office history to for the typically sluggish month of September.

Friday's Box Office Numbers:

1. The Lion King 3-D - $8.8 mil
2. Contagion - $4.6 mil
3. Drive - $4.0 mil
4. Straw Dogs - $2.0 mil
5. The Help - $1.9 mil
6. I Don't Know Who She Does It - $1.6 mil

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