Contagion Smothers Competition at Weekend Box Office

Steven Soderbergh’s plague epidemic thriller Contagion coasted to the top of the weekend box office in North America, while the other movies currently in release suffered from the post-Labor Day blues. Lionsgate’s mixed martial-arts drama Warrior landed softly in third despite strong reviews, while Sony’s Bucky Smith: Born to Be A Star ticket sales were catatonic on arrival. Despite the decent debut of Contagion, the box office reached some of its lowest levels so far in 2011.

Following an effective marketing campaign throughout August that featured the film’s all-star cast, Contagion infected 3,222 screens – both regular and IMAX – to earn a solid $23.1 million in its debut. The Soderbergh-directed drama scored a hit not only with viewers, but also with the nation’s critics, the latter bestowing the film with a strong 82% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The ensemble cast includes Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard and Bryan Cranston.

Following its three-peat at the number one spot last weekend, Disney/Dreamworks’ sleeper hit The Help moved down to second place while easing 40% from its numbers over the Labor Day weekend. In its fifth weekend of release, the Emma Stone-starrer earned an estimated $8.7 million from 2,935 screens to bring its total to a solid $137 million. The film is on course to finish near the $165 million mark, and is already available for pre-order on Blu-ray where additional millions in profit await.

Despite solid notices from critics (82% positive on RT) and favorable feedback from those who turned out to see the movie at nationwide sneak peeks last weekend, Lionsgate’s Warrior was knocked out in its debut. Opening on 1,869 screens, the Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton headliner earned a weak $5.6 million in its first three days. The $25 million production directed by Gavin O’Connor (Pride and Glory) will have to look to the home video arena to make its name known.

And what of the latest offering from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions, the porn-industry comedy Bucky Smith: Born to Be A Star? After being dumped by Sony Pictures into 1,500 theaters and after being backed by one of the most irritating, idiotic ad campaigns ever mounted by a film studio, the Crappy Madison production could only must a pathetic $1.45 million in its debut weekend which was only good for 13th place. And wouldn’t you know, the movie earned a zero percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So much for the planned Oscar Campaign.

A series of late summer openers all suffered big drops from their Labor Day weekend numbers. After bowing with mild numbers last weekend, Focus Features’ thriller The Debt dropped by 51% in its sophomore round to earn $4.9 million. After ten days, the John Madden film has earned $22 million. The film should finish its run with just a little bit over $30 million in the bank.

Sony’s Columbiana lost 47% of its business to earn $4 million while landing in fifth place. To date, the action flick has earned $29.7 million and is en route to end its mission with approximately $40 million.

The remaining top ten finishers for the weekend is as follows:

6) Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Fox) $3.87 million (-51%) $167.8 million

7) Shark Night 3D (Relativity) $3.5 million (-58%) $14.8 million

8) Apollo 18 (Weinstein Company/Dimension) $2.9 million (-67%) $15 million

9) Our Idiot Brother (Weinstein) $2.76 million (-49%) $21.4 million

10) Spy Kids: All the Time In the World (Weinstein/Dimension) $2.5 million (-48%) $34.2 million

Next weekend, the Ryan Gosling action thriller Drive cruises into theaters, as well as the Sarah Jessica Parker comedy I Don’t Know How She Does It, a new version of the Sam Peckinpah classic Straw Dogs and a two-week reissue of the 1994 Disney classic The Lion King, this time in 3D. Odds are favorable at least one of those films will manage to knock Contagion from the top spot.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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