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Worst Labor Day Weekend Box Office in Nearly Two Decades


Allison Janney, Emma Stone, The Help

Sept. 8 update: The Help was once again the no. 1 movie at the U.S. and Canada box office on Tuesday, Sept. 7, grossing $1.34 million according to Box Office Mojo. The Help cast features Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Chris Lowell, and Mike Vogel. Writer-director Tate Taylor adapted Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel.

The Help was down 10 percent on Wednesday. That was the lowest drop-off rate on a day when every single top-twelve movie was down, most of them losing more than one fifth of their business.

John Madden’s The Debt – which, despite rumors to the contrary, has nothing to do with the national debt or debt ceiling – collected $749,000 at no. 2. The espionage thriller stars Academy Award winner and The Tempest actress Helen Mirren, Avatar‘s Sam Worthington, The Help and The Tree of Life‘s Jessica Chastain, two-time Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, Marton Csokas, and Jesper Christensen. After eight days, The Debt has yet to reach $20 million in the domestic market; its current total is $16.44 million.

In fact, the only North American release to have passed the $20 million mark to date is Olivier Megaton-Zoe Saldana’s Colombiana, currently with a (modest) $25.32 million cume. Both Troy Nixey’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Jesse Peretz’s Our Idiot Brother have earned a little over $18 million, while Shark Night 3D and Apollo 18 have yet to reach $15 million.

Sept. 6 update


Dustin Milligan, Shark Night 3D.

North American box office actuals have been released for the Sept. 2–5, Labor Day weekend. Tate Taylor’s The Help easily topped the slow holiday weekend, grossing $19.88 million according to Box Office Mojo. That’s nearly $1 million more than the studio’s original $19 million estimate. As mentioned in a previous box office post, The Help is the first movie since Christopher Nolan-Leonardo DiCaprio’s summer 2010 sci-fier Inception to top the North American box office chart for three consecutive weekends.

The Help, by now an all-but-assured Best Picture Oscar and SAG Award for Best Cast contender, features Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Chris Lowell, and Mike Vogel. Director Taylor adapted Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel.

Directed by Shakespeare in Love‘s John Madden, produced and co-written by Kick-Ass’ Matthew Vaughn, and starring Avatar‘s Sam Worthington, Academy Award winner Helen Mirren, The Help and The Tree of Life‘s Jessica Chastain, two-time Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, Marton Csokas, and Jesper Christensen, the Focus Features/Miramax adult-oriented espionage thriller The Debt earned a modest $12.85 million at 1,826 theaters, averaging $7,038 per location.

At no. 5, Shark Night 3D collected $10.12 million, or about $200,000 less than originally estimated. For comparison’s sake: last August, Piranha 3D opened with $10.1 million – without the advantage of a 4-day weekend. Directed by David R. Ellis, who handled stunts in movies ranging from Smokey and the Bandit and The Addams Family to Patriot Games and Hotel for Dogs, Shark Night 3D features Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Avatar‘s Joel David Moore, Alyssa Diaz, Chris Carmack, Chris Zylka, and Katharine McPhee.

Sept. 5 update: Tate Taylor’s The Help topped the languid four-day Labor Day weekend at the North American box office, grossing $19 million from Friday to Monday (Sept 2-5), according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo. As mentioned in a previous box office post, The Help is the first movie since Christopher Nolan’s Inception to top the North American box office chart for three consecutive weekends.

The by now all-but-assured Best Picture Oscar and SAG Award for Best Cast contender features Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Chris Lowell, and Mike Vogel. Director Taylor adapted Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel.

As per Box Office Mojo, Labor Day weekend 2011 was the least attended of the last 15 years. Despite the advantage of a four-day count and the absence of Hurricane Irene or facsimile, among the top twelve movies, two were down compared to last weekend: Colombiana (-10 percent) and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (down a whopping down 28 percent).

Directed by Shakespeare in Love‘s John Madden, produced and co-written by Kick-Ass’ Matthew Vaughn, and starring Avatar‘s Sam Worthington, Academy Award winner Helen Mirren, The Help and The Tree of Life‘s Jessica Chastain, two-time Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, Marton Csokas, and Jesper Christensen, the Focus Features/Miramax adult-oriented espionage thriller The Debt earned a modest $12.55 million at 1,826 theaters, averaging $6,873 per location.

For comparison’s sake: last year, the adult-oriented George Clooney crime drama The American took in $16.7 million at 2,823 theaters during the same period, averaging $5,902 per site. One could say The American was the more successful of the two, for in terms of actual revenues it was 25 percent ahead of The Debt, while its per-theater average was only 15 percent behind that of the new movie. (All things being equal, the smaller the number of theaters, the higher the per-theater average should be.)

Sept. 4


Tate Taylor, producer Brunson Green, Emma Stone, The Help

Tate Taylor’s The Help topped the North American box office for the third straight weekend, grossing $14.2 million from Friday to Sunday (Sept 2-4), according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo.

To date, The Help is the only 2011 release to have been at the top of the North American box office chart for more than two weekends. So, move aside Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Transformers 3, Captain America: The First Avenger, Green Lantern, Rio, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cars 2, Cowboys & Aliens, Super 8, Thor, Fast Five, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, X-Men: First Class, et al. [Note: Unlike what I claimed in a previous version of this article, Transformers 3 topped only two weekends earlier this summer; the Michael Bay actioner shows up three times on Box Office Mojo’s top-of-the-weekend chart because the first time covers the regular three-day weekend; the second time covers the Fourth of July four-day weekend. Apart from The Help, no other movie has been at the top of the North American chart for three consecutive weekends since Christopher Nolan’s Inception in summer 2010.]

The Help was down a minuscule down 2 percent compared to last weekend, which is quite remarkable. In fact, there’s a good chance The Help will eventually pass the $150 million milestone at the U.S. and Canada box office. But for the time being, at least, the $200 million milestone seems out of reach. Now, regarding the down 2 percent drop-off rate, there are two things to keep in mind: a) last weekend, partly thanks to Hurricane Irene, was the year’s second-lowest weekend at the domestic box office b) Monday is Labor Day; in other words, more people can go to the movies on Sunday evening.

Made for a reported $25 million, The Help has collected $118.6 million after 26 days. The comedy-drama about ethnic relations in the American South in the mid-’60s is now the no. 17 2011 release at the North American box office, ahead of Green Lantern, Horrible Bosses, Hop, Just Go with It, The Green Hornet, Gnomeo & Juliet, Bad Teacher, and Cowboys & Aliens. By next Sunday, The Help should also be ahead of both Rango and Super 8.

The Help opened in Australia in 225 locations. The film pulled in $1.7 million in third place for the weekend. Its per-theater average was a decent, though hardly outstanding, $7,555. It remains to be seen how well The Help will perform abroad, as Hollywood movies about ethnic relations tend to perform much better in the US than elsewhere.

The by now all-but-assured Best Picture Oscar contender features Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Chris Lowell, and Mike Vogel. Director Taylor adapted Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel.

Photo: The Help (Dale Robinette / DreamWorks / Disney Enterprises)

Sam Worthington, The Debt
Sam Worthington, The Debt

Starring Avatar‘s Sam Worthington, Academy Award winner Helen Mirren, The Help and The Tree of Life‘s Jessica Chastain, two-time Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, Marton Csokas, and Jesper Christensen, the Focus Features/Miramax espionage thriller The Debt earned a relatively modest $9.67 million at 1,826 locations, averaging $5,300 per site according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo.

For comparison’s sake: on its fourth weekend out, The Help averaged $4,998 at 2,843 locations. Remember, all things being equal, the fewer the number of theaters, the higher the per-theater average should be. Despite a good 71 percent approval rating among Rotten Tomatoes‘ top critics, after five days The Debt has collected $11.57 million. As per Box Office Mojo, The Debt has also taken in $1.9 million in France and Russia, though international figures seem incomplete.

Adapted from Assaf Bernstein’s 2007 Israeli spy thriller of the same name, The Debt was directed by Shakespeare in Love‘s John Madden. The thriller was produced and co-written by Kick-Ass’ Matthew Vaughn.

The Weinstein Company/Dimension Films’ Apollo 18 wasn’t screened for critics – never a good sign – and failed to lure many curious patrons this weekend. A fictitious account of a secret lunar mission, Apollo 18 pulled in $8.7 million at 3,328 locations, averaging a paltry 2,614 per site. Produced by Wanted and Night Watch filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, Apollo 18 was directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego, and features Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, and Ryan Robbins. So far, Apollo 18 has a quite poor 21 percent approval ratings at Rotten Tomatoes.

At no. 4, Shark Night 3D opened with $8.64 million at 2,806 sites, averaging a dismal $3,079 per theater – “dismal” in that Shark Night 3D has the advantage of 3D surcharges. This is another new entry that wasn’t screened for critics; apparently for good reason, as the current Rotten Tomatoes‘ score stands at a mere 24 percent approval rating. For comparison’s sake: last August, Piranha 3D opened with $10.1 million – without the advantage of a 4-day weekend; the horror-comedy-thriller went on to earn a bloody $25 million in North America and a healthier $58.18 million overseas.

Directed by David R. Ellis, who handled stunts in movies ranging from The Addams Family to Hotel for Dogs, Shark Night 3D features Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Avatar‘s Joel David Moore, Alyssa Diaz, Chris Carmack, Chris Zylka, and Katharine McPhee as various flavors of shark food. Expect Shark Night to sink fast.


Katy Perry, Smurfette’s voice, in The Smurfs

Sept. 4 update p.m.: Raja Gosnell’s The Smurfs topped the international box office for the fourth consecutive weekend. Not surprisingly, The Smurfs is performing much better abroad than in North America: cume of $295.8 million vs. $131.9 million to date. Without the foreign market, this $110 million – not including marketing/distribution expenses – Sony Pictures release would have been a costly disappointment. Well, at least until ancillary revenues kicked in.

Another American disappointment story is that of John Lasseter’s Cars 2, as per Box Office Mojo the first Pixar movie to gross less than $200 million domestically since A Bug’s Life back in 1998. Never mind the fact that in 2011 dollars, A Bug’s Life would have collected approximately $275.57 million – without the benefit of inflated 3D ticket prices.

Cars 2‘s current domestic total stands at $188.58 million. But then again, the more internationally appealing Cars sequel did earn a whopping $351.7 million abroad – vs. $217.9 million brought in by the original Cars in 2006. The worldwide totals of Cars vs. Cars 2 are, respectively, $461.98 million (approx. $541.18 million today*) vs. $540.28 million.

The Smurfs features Neil Patrick Harris, Sofia Vergara, and Hank Azaria, in addition to the voices of Katy Perry, Paul Reubens, George Lopez, Alan Cumming, and others. Cars 2 features the voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Caine, and Emily Mortimer. Note that those English-language voices are replaced by local voices in just about every territory out there.

* This approximation is iffy. The U.S. annual inflation index was used to calculate the adjusted international total in US dollar terms, but those figures fluctuate according to both local inflation rates and the strength/weakness of the US dollar. The weaker the dollar, the higher the international box office take when converted to the American currency. The only way to truly measure a film’s success – whether in the United States, Uruguay, or Uganda – is to have studios, distributors, and exhibitors report the number of tickets each movie has sold.

Featuring Academy Award winners Robert Duvall and Melissa Leo, in addition to Lucas Black, Brian Geraghty, and Deborah Ann Woll, first-time filmmaker Matt Russell’s Golf & God drama Seven Days in Utopia opened with a highly uninspiring $1.23 million at 561 locations. Seven Days in Utopia averaged an ungodly $2,203 per site according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo.

Not faring any better, Beto Gómez’s Mexican comedy Salvando al Soldado Perez / Saving Private Perez drew $670,000 at 161 locations, averaging $4,161 per site. Remember, all things being equal, the smaller the number of theaters, the higher the per-theater average should be.

Now, a clarification: as a non-English-language film clearly targeting Mexicans and Spanish-speakers living in the US, Saving Private Perez couldn’t really be considered a flop on opening weekend. In Mexico, the narco-comedy has grossed more than $4 million. The cast includes Miguel Rodarte, Jesús Ochoa, and Isela Vega.

Aug. 31 update: On Tuesday, August 30, Tate Taylor’s comedy-drama The Help passed the $100 million milestone while Rupert Wyatt’s sci-fier Rise of the Planet of the Apes passed the $150 million milestone at the domestic box office according to figures found at Box Office Mojo. Overall, Tuesday was an “up” day at North American movie houses; the top ten movies posted an 18 percent increase compared to the previous day.

Up 20 percent from Monday, The Help took in $2.16 million on Tuesday, thus lifting its cume to $100.8 million after 21 days. The generally well-received film – a likely Best Picture Oscar contender – features Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Chris Lowell, and Mike Vogel.

At no. 3 on the domestic box office chart, Rise of the Planet of the Apes grossed $1.05 million (up 14 percent from Monday), for a total of $150.65 million after 26 days. The sci-fier stars James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, and John Lithgow.

The no. 2 movie was the Zoe Saldana action vehicle Colombiana, which collected $1.29 million. Co-produced and co-written by Luc Besson, Colombiana was directed by Olivier Megaton. Also in the actioner’s cast: Jordi Molla, Michael Vartan, and Lennie James.

At no. 4, the Jesse Peretz-Paul Rudd comedy Our Idiot Brother brought in $995,000. The low-budget Weinstein Company release also features Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Adam Scott, and Emily Mortimer.

At no. 5, Troy Nixey’s horror house movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, written and produced by Guillermo del Toro, and starring Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce, earned $894k – thus finally passing the $10 million mark on Day 5.

Next in line were two kiddie flicks: Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, featuring Jessica Alba and Jeremy Piven, with $792k (up a remarkable 37 percent) at no. 6 and The Smurfs, featuring the voices of Katy Perry and Paul Reubens among others, with $627k (up 31 percent) at no. 7.

Conan the Barbarian, starring Jason Momoa in the old Arnold Schwarzenegger role, pulled in $485,000 at no. 8. Unfortunately for Lionsgate, the Conan remake has big pecs but weak legs. Budgeted at $90m, the action movie has yet to reach $20 million at the U.S. and Canada box office. Total after 12 days: $17.54 million.


Zoe Saldana, Colombiana

Aug. 29: Because of Hurricane Irene, which forced more than 1,000 movie houses to shut down in the Northeast this past weekend, it’s hard to tell just how disappointing were the openings of three wide releases in North America: Olivier Megaton’s girl-kicks-butt Colombiana, written by Luc Besson and starring Avatar‘s Zoe Saldana; Troy Nixey’s horror thriller Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, written and produced by Guillermo del Toro, and starring Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce; and Jesse Peretz’s comedy Our Idiot Brother, with Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Adam Scott, and Emily Mortimer. But disappointing they were.

Colombiana managed to pull in only $10.48 million at no. 2. That’s considerably less than the $12-15 million some had been expecting. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark opened with $8.52 million at no. 4, while Our Idiot Brother earned $7.01 million at no. 5, as per Box Office Mojo. Some pundits had been expecting grosses around $15 million for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a big-screen remake of a classic TV movie, and somewhere below $10 million for Our Idiot Brother. Another bad sign: None of the newcomers had per-theater averages above $4,000 – and that is already a quite modest figure. With a meager $2,744 per site, Our Idiot Brother fared the worst.

Both Colombiana and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark will have trouble matching their reported budgets – $40 millionand $25 million, respectively – at the domestic box office. International figures are also iffy, as Saldana, Holmes, and Pearce are hardly what one would call major box office draws abroad. After two weekends, Colombiana has taken in an okay $6.2 million in France and Belgium, where Besson is a major attraction. Distributed by The Weinstein Company, Our Idiot Brother cost a reported $5 million.

For comparison’s sake: last year, Takers, which coincidentally featured Saldana along with Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen, and Daniel Stamm’s horror mockumentary The Last Exorcism, neither of which were eagerly awaited releases, opened with more than $20 million domestically on the last weekend of August.


Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, The Help

This past weekend (August 26-28), Tate Taylor’s The Help easily topped the North American box office for the second weekend in a row after dropping a modest 27 percent from the week before. According to Box Office Mojo, the comedy-drama starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain collected $14.53 million.

The Help will likely pass the $100 million milestone within the next day or so. Its current total is $96.83 million. Cost: $25 million. Also in the cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Chris Lowell, and Mike Vogel.

As mentioned in my previous box office article, the no. 2 movie in the U.S. and Canada was the Zoe Saldana vehicle Colombiana, with a disappointing $10.4 million. That was followed by Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with $8.86 million, down 45 percent from the previous weekend. The generally well-received sci-fier stars James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, and John Lithgow. Total to date: $148.67 million, which means Rise of the Planet of the Apes should pass the $150 million milestone in the next couple of days.

Helen Mirren The Debt image: Laurie Sparham / Miramax Films.

Dustin Milligan Shark Night 3D image: Steve Dietl / Incentive Film Productions / Relativity Media.

Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, and Emma Stone The Help image: Dale Robinette / DreamWorks / Disney Enterprises.

Katy Perry The Smurfs image: K. C. Bailey / Sony Pictures.

Zoe Saldana Colombiana image: Magali Bragard / Columbia Pictures.

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PaulaWB -

Takers? I seem to remember that last year the critics mostly panned Takers and then became surprised at the audience response. Audiences side-stepped the critics opinions and liked Takers. Do a search on Twitter. They are still liking Takers and the crew. Not a blockbuster but a fun late summer movie.

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