By Gabe Toro | The Playlist September 4, 2011 at 3:53AM
There are all sorts of qualifiers to this summer becoming the most financially robust in box office history. Chief amongst them are both the inferior product, but also the illusion of 3D prices, which do an excellent job of covering up the consistently-dropping attendance numbers. In other words, money is money, inflated or otherwise, and not enough people balked at the enhanced prices, even though a number of 3D films loudly flopped this summer.
But while executives benefited from an unexpectedly successful international market that simply didn’t exist three or four years ago ($1 billion worldwide is the new $200 million domestic), the simple fact is, the weaker product is bound to shrink the ancillary market. DVD aren’t really the collectables they used to be, and a lot of these movies doing blockbuster business utilized firebombing market tactics that flooded theaters before word of mouth got out, leading to second weekend showings looking like ghost towns for some of the season’s biggest movies. Sure, the general public might like a lot of these films (or simply be willed into submission via unpleasant sound and fury; “Transformers” has done this three times already), but are they keepers?
Which is to say that, to its particular audience, “The Help” is a keeper. The late-summer hit took the number one spot at the box office for the third straight week with $14.2 million, and after slightly more than four weeks of release, its collected $119 million worth from those with liberal guilt, and those that are grandmas. It’s partly that this film is hitting the sweet spot for those who like their dramas Lifetime-flavored, and partly that it’s serving a demographic that is largely ignored during this boys-and-toys season. Every year, there’s a couple of breakout successes that benefit from audience members that see one movie a year -- “The Help” is one of them.
It’s another crowded Oscar season, but while the late-season entries look like boutique, prestige offerings, the race needed one big 800 lb. box office gorilla. Each week, “The Help” keeps boosting its chances of showing up in the winner’s circle, and it dropped less than five percent from last weekend’s hurricane-ravaged total to this week, which is just plain ridiculous for a fourth week release. There’s a chance as the warm weather subsides that “The Help” will finally slow down and cap out at $150 million, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the film carry on in the top five for the next month or so, as the only women-geared released in the next three weeks is the barely-promoted Weinstein Company dramedy “I Don’t Know How She Does It.”
With the most surprisingly muscular showing of the new films, “The Debt” crawled up into second place despite premiering in less than two thousand theaters. This is a surprise, given that the forgotten Focus Features release was stuck in the Miramax quagmire for a while now, but it’s a nice non-blockbuster feather in Sam Worthington’s cap. Most interestingly, with “The Help,” the top two films at the box office at the start of September are decidedly older-skewing. Did you need further reminder the kiddies are off at school?
Failing to take advantage of that non-existent demo of young teens, “Shark Night 3D” and “Apollo 18” battled for the same audience and lost. “Apollo 18” was expected to be something of a hit, but the Weinstein Company clearly botched the (extensive) marketing, shuffling it around the schedule repeatedly. Not a total loss, since everyone knew it was a cheap, quickly-shot project with no stars, maybe the most nakedly-commercial release of the summer season. “Shark Night 3D” takes a greater hit, since it’s 3D-inflated numbers are significantly worse, but again, this was thrown to the, er, sharks. Maybe wolves would be a better analogy. We’ll stick with sharks.
Given that several movies lost up to a thousand screens during the hurricane last week, its not a surprise that the holdovers kept their heads above water. “Columbiana” held solidly, though its numbers aren’t all too impressive in weekend two, and it dropped below “Rise of The Planet Of The Apes,” itself crossing $160 million with ease. “Our Idiot Brother” and “Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark” also attempted to stay in the picture, though the 'Dark' drop certainly seemed much steeper, a product of the first-weekend horror fans who moved on to the genre’s dual offerings closer to the top of this lineup.
In limited release, "Seven Days Of Utopia" debuted on 561 screens with a feeble $1.2 million. It carried a much weaker per-screen average than the other semi-large arthouse launch, the comedy "Saving Private Perez," which grabbed $670k on 161 screens. A strong expansion greeted "Higher Ground," which averaged $5k per-screen for a $97.6k total on seventeen screens, recovering from its hurricane-affected first frame. The weekend's biggest per-screen average belonged to "Gainsbourgh: A Heroic Life," which averaged slightly over $8k on three screens for a $25.4k tally. Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.
1. Civil Rights For Dummies (Disney) - $14.2 million ($119 mil.)
2. The Debt (Focus/Paramount) - $9.7 million ($11 mil.)
3. Space Madness (The Weinstein Company) - $8.7 million
4. Shark Week Minus Six Days 3D (Relativity) - $8.6 million
5. Rise Of The Apes, And Their Planet, Too (Fox) - $7.8 million ($160 mil.)
6. Columbiana (Sony) - $7.4 million ($22 mil.)
7. Our Idiot Brother (Weinstein Company) - $5.2 million ($15 mil.)
8. Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (FilmDistrict) - $4.9 million ($16 mil.)
9. Spy Kids 4 (Weinstein Company) - $4.6 million ($29 mil.)
10. The Smurfs (Sony) - $4 million ($132 mil.)