The Butler Serves Up Top Spot at Box Office with $25 Million

The Butler Serves Up Top Spot at Box Office with $25 MillionAnother August weekend brings a new quartet of releases filtering into an overcrowded North American box office. Much like last weekend, the results were mixed at best. Of the four only Lee Daniels’ The Butler made any sort of positive impact in terms of ticket sales. Fellow newcomers Kick-Ass 2, Jobs and Paranoia were all dead on arrival. With so much mediocre product clogging the multiplexes and the start of a new school year looming on the horizon, the North American box office slid 18% from last weekend and eight percent from a year ago at this time.

Riding a wave of good reviews (73% approval on Rotten Tomatoes) and some heavy duty marketing that included Oprah Winfrey (who stars in the movie), Lee Daniels’ The Butler scored a direct hit with filmgoers over the age of 25, who have been largely ignored this summer. Inspired by the true story of White House butler Eugene Allen, the new film from the director of Precious tells the tale of a White House servant (Forrest Whittaker) who serves eight Presidents over the course of three decades.

Originally scheduled to open in mid-October, the Weinstein Company took a gamble and decided to open it in mid-August instead based on the strong feedback from test screenings this past spring. It appears that the gamble for the $30 million Oscar contender paid off handsomely. Opening this past Friday on 2,933 screens, The Butler earned an estimated $25 million. With a solid “A” CinemaScore rating from ticket buyers, the word-of-mouth should be strong enough to keep The Butler afloat over the next several weeks.

The word on Warner’s We’re the Millers has also been strong since opening a week and a half ago, so much so that it continually beat Elysium for the number one spot this past midweek. Millers carried that momentum into the weekend and saw its grosses drop a mere 33% to an estimated $17.7 million from 3,325 screens. To date, the Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis comedy has earned a great $69.5 million and is a lock to cross the $100 million mark by the end of its run.

The nine-digit club is one that Elysium will not be joining anytime soon, at least in North America. The Neill Blomkamp feature fell a sharp 54% from last weekend to land in third place with an estimated gross of $13.6 million from 3,284 theaters. To date, the $115 million Sony production has earned $56 million and should wind down its run between $75-80 million. Overseas, the Sci-fi epic has earned $38 million thus far from a small amount of markets.

2010’s Kick-Ass was a violent but entertaining action comedy whose box office was mild at best and formed a small cult following on home video in the ensuing three years. That small group of followers may explain why the sequel, Kick-Ass 2, landed with a thud in fourth place this weekend. Directed and written by Jeff Wadlow, Kick-Ass 2 got its ass kicked by the nation’s critics. They gave the film a dire 29% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the original score a solid 77% RT approval).

As for the fans, it appears that they were the only ones that showed up to see the film. Given the 28% nosedive the movie took from Friday to Saturday, even they weren’t all that jazzed by the final product. Sequels can overcome critical slams pretty easily, but bad buzz from their supporters? Not so much. The return of Hit Girl and Kick-Ass on 2,940 screens could only muster $13.5 million in its first three days and will be lucky to get to the $30 million mark by the end of its brief theatrical run.

Disney’s Planes landed in fifth place this weekend with an estimated $13.1 million. Off 41% from last weekend, the cartoon has earned $45 million thus far and should finish near the $70 million mark.

The other two wide releases for this weekend finished outside the top five. Open Roads’ biopic Jobs was a non-starter in seventh place on 2,381 screens. The first of two fictional looks at the life of Apple founder Steve Jobs (Aaron Sorkin is working on another film version for Sony) was largely ignored by critics (25% RT approval) and the public alike as evidenced by the film’s $6.7 million debut. The soft opening for Jobs is yet another sign that Ashton Kutcher is not a movie star. Not now, not ever.

Of course, being a movie star does not guarantee that your movie is going to open well if at all. Just ask Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman. They are two of the main stars of the biggest bomb of the weekend (if not the summer), the tech thriller Paranoia. With a four percent approval rating from critics, the $35 million Relativity Films feature was dead right out of the gate on 2,459 screens. It earned a pathetic $3.5 million to land in twelfth place and will be lucky to finish with $10 million.

The remainder of the top ten is as follows:

6. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (Fox) $8.3 million (-42%); $38.9 million

8. 2 Guns (Universal Pictures) $5.5 million (-50%); $59.2 million

9. The Smurfs 2 (Sony) $4.6 million (-51%); $56.9 million

10. The Wolverine (Fox) $4.4 million (-45%); $120.4 million

The World’s End, The Mortal Instruments and You’re Next debut next weekend in an attempt to knock The Butler from the top spot.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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