BOX OFFICE: The Help Cleans House This Labor Day

Make no mistake, Hollywood had a robust summer this year. That’s not to say there weren’t pitfalls along the way. Inflated 3D prices tried to make up the difference in plummeting audience numbers. If you noticed, as the summer progressed the weaker the 3D films became. Due to The Hangover‘s success two years ago, restricted comedies became major players this summer – specifically, Bridesmaids, Horrible Bosses and The Hangover Part II. The international market became an even bigger participant in box office success. The success of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides illustrates this point. Domestically, it finished its run with $240.5 million. Internationally, it tripled that figure with $798.5 million overall.

As someone who champions small releases that hit it big, you would think Hollywood would want to push this concept further, and not just use it for cheap thrillers. Regardless of how you feel about The Help‘s interpretation of race relations in the 1960s, it became the summer hit that most weren’t expecting. During its four weeks in release the dramedy has made $118.6 million on a production budget of $25 million. It’s a light film that is easily digestible for those racked with racial guilt, or want to see something that’s slightly above Hallmark’s Movie of the Week. Throw in that it is appealing to an older crowd, an audience that made Source Code, Limitless, and The Lincoln Lawyer hits this spring, and you begin to see how it became this surprise hit.

Each week that The Help hangs on to the top spot (this is its third consecutive first place finish – the first film to reach that milestone this year) it boosts its chances to be invited to the big show: The Oscars. It may not be a shiny, prestige offering but it’s a dark horse that could make some noise. And it’s 0.5% percent increase from last week to this week is just crazy, especially for a film entering its fourth weekend. Look for it to continue box-office success in the coming weeks, as its female-driven cast encourages more female viewership. The only thing coming out in the coming weeks that’s geared toward women is the Sarah Jessica Parker starring vehicle I Don’t Know How She Does It.

In a bit of a surprise, The Debt finished in second place with $9.9 million. Playing on less than two thousand screens (1,826 to be exact), it bettered the low-rent thrillers Apollo 18 (3,328 screens) and Shark Night 3D (2,806 screens). Considering it got shuffled around due to Miramax’s woes, this is good news going into the fall season as the two top finishers are aimed toward an older audience.

The decision to drop Apollo 18 and Shark Night 3D on the same weekend after the start of the school year was not the greatest idea. For one, the two films were competing for the same audience. Second, the target audience wasn’t out in full force. To its credit, Apollo 18 was cheaply produced. Shark Night takes a bigger hit because of the extra cost to have it in 3D.

Columbiana dropped below Rise of the Planet of the Apes and should better its $40 million budget by $10-15 million when all is said and done. Apes crosses $160 million with ease, and its viewership only dropped by 11% in its fifth weekend. Our Idiot Brother and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark still managed to find viewers looking for laughs and haunted house scares. Dark‘s 40% drop was expected due to the one-and-done nature of first-weekend horror releases.

And yes, The Smurfs are still seeing green at the box office. It rounds out the list finishing in tenth.

In limited release, Seven Days Of Utopia opened on 561 screens and took in a weak $1.3 million. Comparatively, the Spanish comedy Saving Private Perez nabbed $664k on 161 screens. Expansions of The Guard and Higher Ground saw their weekend totals bump up by fifty percent. In the case of Higher Ground, going from three screens to seventeen screens gave it a $5k per-screen average.

1. The Help – $14.6 million ($119 million)
2. The Debt – $9.9 million ($11.8 million)
3. Apollo 18 – $8.7 million
4. Shark Night 3D – $8.4 million
5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – $7.9 million ($385 million worldwide)
6. Columbiana – $7.45 million ($22 million)
7. Our Idiot Brother – $5.4 million ($15.7 million)
8. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark – $5.1 million ($16.6 million)
9. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World 4 – $4.8 million ($29.2 million)
10. The Smurfs – $4.1 million ($429 million worldwide)

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