Weekend Box Office Belongs to The Help and Mother Nature

As if another handful of undesirable new summer leftover films wasn’t enough to cause a slowdown at the North American box office this weekend, the arrival of Hurricane Irene on the Mid-Atlantic coast helped it come to an outright crawl. Theaters in states directly affected by Irene were forced to close either Saturday or Sunday. Even without a major weather event thrown into the mix, the top ten would still have been weak thanks to a tepid selection of releases new and old. It was down a sharp 30% from last weekend at this time and 22% from the same period one year ago.

For the second straight week in a row, Disney/Dreamworks’ The Help helped itself to the top spot with an estimated $14.3 million from 2,778 reporting theaters. Off a mere 28%, the late summer sleeper hit continued to be the one of two “go-to” choices for viewers looking for a film of quality at their local multiplex (the other being Rise of the Planet of the Apes). To date, The Help has earned a great $96.6 million. Given the film’s sturdy legs, The Help should withstand the dead zone of September and make its way to the $130-140 million mark (if not more) by the end of its run.

In second place was the first of the latest trio of Hollywood leftovers making their debut. Sony’s Columbiana debuted softly in second place with $10.3 million from 2,614 screens. The Zoe Saldana-starrer was written and produced by Luc Besson (Nikita, Leon) and directed by Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3). The revenge tale suffered from a weak marketing campaign, a slew of bad reviews and an opening day at the end of a summer that had more than its fair share of action movies. These factors all helped ensure that Columbiana’s first mission would be her last.

Proving yet again that August isn’t really the best time to release a horror film, FilmDistrict’s remake of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark timidly landed in third place. Scaring up scant business on 2,760 screens, the Troy Nixey-directed remake earned an estimated $8.68 million. The reviews were so-so on the remake, which was written by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and starred Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes. Mixed reviews aside, the film had the misfortune of being the third horror film released in the month of August, the others being fellow under-performers Final Destination 5 and Fright Night. The non-opening of Dark showed once again that people are not in the mood to be scared during the dog days of summer. On the plus side, at least it wasn’t in 3D.

Nipping on the heels of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark in fourth place was Fox’s hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Off 46% from last weekend, the popular prequel earned an estimated $8.5 million on 3,374 screens to bring its domestic total to $148.5 million. Depending on the actual numbers, Rise could…ahem…rise to the number three spot to change places with Dark in the final top ten report for the weekend. Apes is still looking at a final total of approximately $165-170 million in domestic sales.

In fifth place was the third weekend opener, the Weinstein Company’s comedy Our Idiot Brother, which laughed its way to an estimated $6.5 million from 2,555 screens. The studio picked up the indie comedy for distribution after this past year’s Sundance Film Festival. Reviews were fair for the Paul Rudd comedy with critics giving it a 66% Rotten Tomatoes approval rating. And even though the opening numbers were pretty weak, the studio isn’t exactly hurting because of them. The film cost a reported five million to produce, a figure that most likely was raised by sources other than the Weinstein Company.

The remainder of the top ten was as follows:

6) Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (Weinstein Company) $5.7 million (off 51 percent) $21.7 million total.

7) The Smurfs (Sony) $4.8 million (-38.5%; $125 million)

8) Conan the Barbarian (2011) $3.1 million (Lionsgate) (-69%; $16.5 million)

9) Fright Night (2011) (Disney/Dreamworks) $3 million (-60%; $14.2 million)

10) Crazy, Stupid Love (Warner) $2.9 million (-39%; $69.5 million)

Next weekend, the final batch of summer releases will include Apollo 18, The Debt and what will most likely be a future Oscar contender, Shark Night 3D. Have a great week, everyone!

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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