Weekend Box Office – THE HELP On Top For Third Week. THE DEBT Strongest of Weak Labor Day Releases

     September 4, 2011

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We have arrived at the official end of summer: Labor Day weekend.  Never a blockbuster in terms of grosses, this year’s late summer crop of movies – two horror titles and a thriller – appears weaker than usual.  In fact, it looks like it will take four days for the newcomers to earn what last year’s Labor Day releases made in only three.

Title Weekend Total
1 The Help $14,200,000 $118.6
2 The Debt $9,670,000 $11.6
3 Apollo 18 $8,700,000 $10.7
4 Shark Night 3D $8,640,000 $10.5
5 Rise of the Planet of the Apes $7,800,000 $160
6 Colombiana $7,400,000 $21.9
7 Our Idiot Brother $5,180,000 $15.4
8 Don’t be Afraid of the Dark $4,940,000 $16.3
9 Spy Kids 4 $4,630,000 $29
10 The Smurfs $4,000,000 $131.9

the-debt-movie-posterLabor Day 2010 was home to box office disappointments like Machete and Going the Distance.  Even so, this year’s batch of late summer hopefuls could not even rise to their very limited levels – putting this Labor Day frame on track to fall 5% behind last year’s.

On its third straight weekend at number one, The Help was down by less than 3%.  The Dreamworks/Disney release, with a reported budget of $25 million, passed the $100 million mark on Tuesday, making it one of the highest-grossing summer dramas of all-time.  Strange to think that just last month it seemed a stretch to say that The Help would be as successful as Eat Pray Love.  Live and learn.

Of the three new titles, Focus Features’ The Debt was strongest, even though its estimated three-day total looked fairly anemic – even by late-summer standards.  Rising from fourth place on Friday to second by Sunday, the R-rated thriller took in $9.6 million from 1,826 locations: a much smaller theatre count than the weekend’s other two new arrivals.  Tempering the good news for The Debt, however, is the fact that on this same weekend in 2010 Focus Features brought in $13.1 million for the George Clooney thriller The American.  As almost no one considers that film a hit, The Debt seems destined to drop off the radar just as quickly.

Friday saw a photo finish for the weekend’s two new horror titles: Apollo 18 and Shark Night 3D.  Interestingly, the two films are also running neck and neck with critics; with each earning a 24% rotten reading on Rotten Tomatoes.  Though August can be a good place to release a horror movie, nothing about Apollo 18 or Shark Night 3D promised a surprise hit in the making.

apollo-18-movie-poster-updatedThough the two films have continued to run neck and neck, the Dimension/Weinstein space scarer Apollo had the higher screen count (3,328) so could be considered the bigger disappointment.  Then again, the film was an inexpensive acquisition for the studio (before marketing) so folks there are claiming to be “pretty happy” with the opening.

As for Shark Night 3D, Relativity has not released a budget for their film.  Last summer’s Piranha 3D cost $24 million and brought in $10.1 million in its first three days – about where the estimates are putting this year’s sea-based horror feature after four.  Though Shark Night opened in fewer locations (2,806) it had the “3D’ price-premium accounting for 86% of its estimated weekend gross, meaning it should have come out stronger than Apollo 18.  In the end, though, why argue about which regrettable horror movie is stronger?  If their estimates are any indication, no one really cares either way.

Next weekend Warner Brothers will officially kick off fall with Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion.  Here’s hoping that all goes as planned and the thriller knocks The Help out of first place… not to take anything away from that fim’s stunning success but I would really like to have something new to write about.

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