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Worst Labor Day Weekend Box Office in Nearly Two Decades

Emma Stone The Help
The Help with Emma Stone.

Disastrous Labor Day weekend box office

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Sept. 2–5 (Labor Day) weekend box office: North American box office actuals have been released. Tate Taylor’s The Help easily topped the slow holiday weekend, grossing $19.9 million according to 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.

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 $12.9 million at 1,826 theaters, averaging $7,038 per location.

For comparison’s sake: Last year, the adult-oriented George Clooney thriller 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.)

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.

At no. 5, Shark Night 3D collected $10.1 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.

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 (down 10 percent) and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (down a whopping 28 percent).

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

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-1960s is now the no. 17 2011 release at the North American box office, ahead of Green Lantern, Horrible Bosses, Hop, Just Go with It ($103 million*), 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 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.

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. 26–28 weekend box office: 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. According to Box Office Mojo, the comedy-drama collected $14.5 million.

As a result of Hurricane Irene, which forced more than 1,000 movie houses to shut down in the northeastern United States, it’s hard to tell just how disappointing were the openings of three wide releases: 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 $10.5 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 $8.5 million at no. 4, while Our Idiot Brother earned $7 million at no. 5. 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 – itself a modest figure.

Both Colombiana and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark will have trouble matching their reported budgets – $40 million and $25 million, respectively – in the domestic market. 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.

Jason Momoa shirtless, Conan the Barbarian
A shirtless Jason Momoa, Conan the Barbarian

Aug. 19–21 weekend box office: After topping the North American box office chart with an estimated $20.5 million, The Help has collected a total of $71.8 million to date.

The comedy-drama about ethnic relations in the American South will surely end up grossing more than $100 million domestically, thus far surpassing two recent female-centered August releases, the Meryl Streep-Amy Adams comedy Julie & Julia (cume: $94.1 million) and the Julia Roberts romance flick Eat Pray Love (cume: $80.6 million).

Of note, The Help is one of two movies in 2011 to have topped the North American weekend box office chart after trailing another movie on a previous weekend. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s True Grit – which went on to receive a Best Picture Oscar nod – was The Help‘s predecessor back in January. Last weekend, The Help trailed the James Franco sci-fier Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Two recent female-driven Best Picture Oscar nominees had done excellent business in the U.S. and Canada prior to being shortlisted: Black Swan, which earned Natalie Portman the 2011 Best Actress Oscar, and The Blind Side, which earned Sandra Bullock the 2010 Best Actress Oscar. Also, the Annette Bening-Julianne Moore vehicle The Kids Are All Right was a solid arthouse hit (but not more than that). Needless to say, SAG Award nominations for The Help are all but inevitable, including one for Best Cast.

Marcus Nispel’s $90 million-budgeted Conan the Barbarian looked more like Conan the Wimp at the domestic box office, opening at no. 4 with a limp $10 million from 3,015 locations, averaging only 3,317 per theater. Jason Momoa stars as the shirtless, six-packed barbarian of the title.

The good news – though not for distributor Lionsgate – is that chances are there won’t be a Conan sequel or a reboot in the near future.

For comparison’s sake: Back in 1982, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian debuted with $9.6 million, or about $26 million today. Directed by John Milius, that piece of trash helped to turn Schwarzenegger into one of the biggest (and most unwatchable) stars of 1980s.

Aug. 12–14 weekend box office: Though down 50 percent, Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes topped the North American (U.S. and Canada only) box office for the second weekend in a row. Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, and John Lithgow, Rise of the Planet of the Apes brought in $27.5 million according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo.

Budget $93 million (as always, not including marketing and distribution expenses). Worldwide cume: $179.3 million.

At no. 2, Tate Taylor’s $25 million budget The Help overperformed, earning far more than the expected $20–$22 million. Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, and veterans Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, and Mary Steenburgen, The Help grossed $25.5 million from  2,511 locations.

Director Taylor adapted Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel.

For comparison’s sake: The $60 million Julia Roberts-Javier Bardem-James Franco vehicle Eat Pray Love collected $23.1 million from 3,082 sites on its first weekend out in August last year, while the $40 million Meryl Streep-Amy Adams comedy-drama Julie & Julia pulled in $20 million when it opened at 2,354 venues in August 2009. Even more notable is that The Help had already blown some box office steam on Wednesday, whereas Eat Pray Love and Julie & Julia opened on a Friday.

With the help of generally positive reviews – 68 percent approval rating among Rotten Tomatoes‘ top critics – and lots of Oscar buzz, The Help should have a long life at the U.S. and Canada box office. But will audiences abroad give a damn? Back in 1989, Driving Miss Daisy grossed $106.6 million domestically (approximately $214 million today), but a relatively modest $39.2 million abroad (approximately $78 million today) despite its Best Picture Oscar win, an Oscar for star Jessica Tandy, and nominations for Morgan Freeman and Dan Aykroyd.

More recently, another popular release at the domestic box office that also dealt with American “family values” and ethnic issues, the Sandra Bullock vehicle The Blind Side, went on to gross an astounding $256 million in North America, but only $53.2 million overseas despite a Best Picture Oscar nomination and a Best Actress win for Bullock.

Not helping The Help is the fact that Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, and most other cast members are hardly known outside the United States. Emma Stone, for her part, may have had a domestic sleeper hit in Easy A – $58.4 million on an $8 million production budget; but internationally the romantic comedy failed to click, earning a paltry $16.6 million.

Directed by Steven Quale, and featuring Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, and Miles Fisher, Warner Bros./New Line’s Final Destination 5 opened at no. 3 with $18.4 million at the North American box office, according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo.

Some had been predicting that, with the assistance of 3D surcharges (about 75 percent of the estimated gross), the horror thriller would reach $25–$30 million.

Also in 3D, the previous installment in the Final Destination franchise opened with $27 million in 2009 and went on to gross more than $66 million. Clearly the least attended of the Final Destination movies, Final Destination 5 will be lucky if it earns half as much.

Though no longer among the top twelve, Zookeeper remains embroiled in damaging accusations that the filmmakers failed to care for a giraffe, which collapsed and died during the making of the “family” film. Another controversy along those lines has erupted around the Francis Lawrence-directed, Robert Pattinson-Reese Witherspoon-Christoph Waltz vehicle Water for Elephants, as an animal rights group has accused the owners of Tai the Elephant (Rosie in the movie) of viciously abusing the pachyderm.

Aug. 6: Whereas Rise of the Planet of the Apes is overperforming, the R-rated comedy The Change-Up is underperforming in – possibly – fourth place. Directed by David Dobkin, and starring Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman, the poorly received The Change-Up is expected to collect only $4.5 million on Friday, for a weekend total in the low-to-mid teens.

This marks Ryan Reynolds’ second box office misfire this summer, following the mediocre domestic earnings – and downright dismal foreign earnings – of the Green Lantern movie adaptation.

Aug. 5: Starring Oscar nominee James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, and a resimianized Andy Serkis – he had already played the giant gorilla in Peter Jackson’s King Kong – Rise of the Planet of the Apes, grossed $1.3 million at 1,124 Thursday midnight screenings.

Ten years ago, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, starring Mark Wahlberg and Helena Bonham Carter, earned $68.5 million on opening weekend, or approximately $96.5 million adjusted for inflation. With luck, Rise of the Planet of the Apes will reach half of the inflation-adjusted figure. Estimates have ranged between $35–$45 million, though that should be enough for the Rupert Wyatt-directed sci-fier to top the domestic box office.

Written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is – officially – neither a prequel nor a sequel to Planet of the Apes. In truth, however, it is a prequel – as well as a loose remake of J. Lee Thompson’s 1972 critical and box office disappointment Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

The original 1968 Planet of the Apes starred Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, and Kim Hunter. Franklin J. Schaffner directed. There were a total of four sequels: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), the aforementioned Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).

July 29–31 weekend box office: Despite the assistance of 3D surcharges, the little, ugly blue toys failed to kick macho cowboy ass this past weekend. But that was a hollow cowboy victory if ever there was one.

Once upon a time, just about anything starring Harrison Ford – the Han Solo of the Star Wars movies, the Indiana Jones of the Indiana Jones movies – meant huge box office receipts. But apart from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the 21st century hasn’t been kind to the Oscar nominee (Witness, 1985). Following the flops Crossing Over, Extraordinary Measures, and Morning Glory comes Cowboys & Aliens, which, despite the presence of Mr. James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, has failed to match expectations.

Directed by Jon Favreau, whose previous credits include Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Cowboys & Aliens debuted with $36.4 million; The Smurfs earned $35.6 million. Even so, Cowboys & Aliens did underperform – studio expectations hovered around $40 million – whereas The Smurfs overperformed, as box office clairvoyants predicted an opening within the $25–$30 million range.

Cowboys & Aliens officially cost $163 million (apparently after rebates; budget reports go as high as $200 million), while The Smurfs officially cost $110 million. Neither movie will get even close to recovering their budget at the domestic box office, though The Smurfs may have better luck overseas – not to mention the fact that every brat will be asking their parents to get them dozens of those ugly blue things.

DreamWorks (50 percent of the Cowboys & Aliens budget), Universal (25 percent) and Relativity (25 percent) have a major box office disappointment in their hands. For comparison’s sake, Martin Campbell-Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern, an “underperformer” that cost $200 million, opened with $53.2 million.

According to Deadline, more than a dozen writers messed around with the screenplay. Following arbitration by the Writers Guild, five were credited for the screenplay, two for both the screenplay and the “screen story,” and one solely for the screen story, itself an adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s Platinum Studios comic book.

Some may say that the presence of Ford, Craig, Favreau, and Spielberg at San Diego’s Comic-Con last weekend was a waste of time and gas, but who knows? Perhaps without that trip to the Mexican border Cowboys & Aliens would have opened with $30 million?

Not helping matters is that Westerns aren’t a popular movie genre internationally. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s True Grit, for instance, earned only 31 percent of its worldwide take overseas despite ten Oscar nominations, and the presence of Matt Damon and Best Actor nominee Jeff Bridges. Starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, 3:10 to Yuma’s international box office share was even lower, 23 percent. Paramount is distributing Cowboys & Aliens overseas.

Co-produced/executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, among others, besides Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig Cowboys & Aliens also features Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano, and Sam Rockwell.

Directed by Raja Gosnell, whose previous credits include Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Scooby-Doo, The Smurfs features Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria, and Sofia Vergara, in addition to the voices of Katy Perry, Jonathan Winters, Anton Yelchin, Paul Reubens, Alan Cumming, George Lopez, and others.

At no. 3, Chris Evans-Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger collected $25.6 million, or about $500,000 more than estimated. Still, with $117.4 million after ten days, Captain America is now behind Thor, which had scored $119.5 million by the end of its second weekend.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 passed the $300 million milestone on Friday; after adding $22 million over the weekend it became the most successful Harry Potter movie ever in North America. That is, if you recklessly choose to ignore inflation and 3D surcharges. Deathly Hallows 2‘s cume currently stands at $318.5 million, placing the final Harry Potter slightly ahead of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone‘s cume of $317.6 million.

In terms of attendance, however, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is still trailing every other Harry Potter movie, though that will certainly change before Deathly Hallows 2 ends its domestic run. Also worth noting, the final Harry Potter has passed the $1 billion milestone worldwide; its current cume is $1.008 billion.

For comparison’s sake: Ryan Murphy-Julia Roberts-Javier Bardem’s Eat Pray Love opened with $23.1 million last August, though this particular title had the advantage of being an adaptation of a bestseller. Starring Roberts and Tom Hanks, the Hanks-directed (and widely panned) Larry Crowne opened with a weak $13.1 million earlier this month. The Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher R-rated vehicle No Strings Attached took in $19.7 million when it debuted in January, while another R-rated romantic comedy, Justin Timberlake-Mila KunisFriends with Benefits, collected $18.6 million when it opened last weekend.

Photo: Conan the Barbarian (Simon Varsano | Universal)

Miles Fisher, Emma Bell, and Nicholas D’Agosto Final Destination 5 image: Doane Gregory | Warner Bros. | New Line.

Emma Stone The Help movie image: Dale Robinette | DreamWorks | Disney Enterprises.

Katy Perry The Smurfs movie image: K.C. Bailey | Sony 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.

Christine Cotton -

When I purchased my ticket, the cashier told me what I wanted to see (impressed), but she gave me a ticket to Planet of the Apes. I questioned how many others paid for “Planet” but requested “Help”. In fact the ticket taker told us there was a mistake.

john -

as for final destination 5’s weak box office. it is called karma. the last one changed it’s opening weekend to face off against rob zombie’s halloween 2 because the studio knew the weinsteins and dimension were having $ troubles and were having difficulty even releasing a film.

Harry -

I don’t think Cowboys and Aliens is a flop-in-the-making, it was one to begin with when it opened with a puny $36 million. I will say it again, bad marketing all around from such powerhouse as Dreamworks. Jon Favreau relied heavily on comic-con and unfortunately nobody under the age of 40 decided to spend any money to see an aging old star and someone who’s only box office success came courtesy of Bond.

On the other hand, Planet of the Apes seems to be doing much better than originally anticipated, but again, 60% drops should be expected in the coming weeks.


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