Thompson on Hollywood

As Hurricane Irene pummeled the East Coast, causing some 1000 theaters to close their doors, The Help continued its box office surge. Anthony D'Alessandro reports.

It's easy to blame Hurricane Irene for sub-standard late summer product and depressed weekend box office results. Certainly the weather did have an impact, as surviving cinemas charted close to the lowest weekend of 2011 with an estimated $88.4 million, coming in slightly ahead of Super Bowl's $87.3 million bottom-dwelling frame. This weekend was also 23% behind the same period a year ago and a huge 29% down from last weekend. When exhibitor-distributor gross collector Rentrak issues its own weather advisory that Saturday and Sunday ticket sales will be impacted by 1,000 theater closures, you know it's serious. Theater chains such as Clearview Cinemas, Regal and AMC closed across the eastern seaboard stretching from Washington D.C. to New York. Even though the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit New York, a number of Manhattan cinemas shuttered today as the city contends with the overflow of the Hudson River and lack of transportation.

All of this weekend's new entries as well as the No. 1 film The Help skewed female. Middle America and the South, which has been the prime playing ground for DreamWorks/Disney's The Help, kept the Emma Stone film afloat at No. 1 in its third weekend with $14.3 million, repping a 28% dip and a running cume that's just under $100 million at $96.6 million. (In Contention and TOH debate the film's Oscar prospects here.)

Sony/Tri-Star's release of Europa's Colombiana collected a $10.3 million bounty which was better than the studio's expected projection, $8 million. The studio promoted the actioner heavily in one sheets and across TV, proclaiming that it was "from the creators of Taken." Columbiana inched out the bow of the first Transporter ($9.1 million, $25.3 million), another rogue gun-man shoot-em up, so expect sequels, as the crowd gave it an A- CinemaScore. Females flocked to the Zoe Saldana action film at 57% while 65% of the crowd was over 25. Critics were thumbs down at 34% rotten, but Avatar star Saldana is an action star on the rise with a pending Paramount deal for the supernatural thriller Dominion.

Also faring well in the South in such locations as Dallas, Houston and Miami was Film District/Miramax's R-rated release Don't Be Afraid of the Dark which drew $8.7 million. Females under 25 in urban locales were the prime customers, a similar demo which drove business for Film District's spring sleeper Insidious ($54 million domestic B.O.) which played slightly wider given its PG-13 rating. The Guillermo del Toro-produced horror-thriller (reminscent of Vestron's 1985 Z-cult film Ghoulies, $35 million B.O.), was marketed heavily with advance clips on such younger demo media as MTV and the Village Voice newspaper chain. CinemaScore polled a C-, however, midweek and Labor Day holiday biz should make up for any shortfall this film experienced this weekend. Critics were split at 59% rotten. Oddly, Dark child star Bailee Madison is a dead ringer for Suri Cruise, although her character isn't a blood relation to Katie Holmes' step-mom. A number of publicity stills showed both locked in a tearful embrace, providing an easy assumption that the actresses portrayed mother and daughter. Oddly, they don't.

Weinstein Co.'s Our Idiot Brother pulled in $6.6 million. Paul Rudd's box office trajectory is trending downward after the atrocious How Do You Know? ($30.2 million) last winter. But this is an indie Sundance comedy with Rudd outside of the commercial box. General audiences know him for his uptight straight man roles in such popcorn comedies as Dinner for Schmucks ($73 million), but in Our Idiot Brother, Rudd is a lovable slacker. At 66% fresh, critics giggled more than moviegoers who gave it a C+ CinemaScore. However, distributors theorize that Hurricane Irene threw off scores on exit polls this weekend. "New York was the strongest market before it closed Friday evening," pointed out Weinstein Co. distribution head Erik Lomis. Audience make-up was 55% female with 70% over 25. One could argue that the comedy co-starring Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschanel and Elizabeth Banks, which played well at Sundance, could have benefited from a platform release. Still, Weinstein acquired U.S. and some foreign on the film for $6 million coming out of Sundance and have already covered the cost in pre-sales to U.K., Japan, Germany, France and Benelux.

There's hope for some C-rated CinemaScore films: remember Sony's Cameron Diaz comedy Bad Teacher, which has crossed the $200 million global mark this weekend, a huge fat cash cow for a film that only cost $20 million.

Weekend Top Ten Box Office Chart:

1. The Help (Disney/DreamWorks) $14.3 million down 28% in its third weekend at 2,778 theaters. $5,159 theater average. Domestic total: $96.6 million.

2. Colombiana (TriStar/Sony/Europa) $10.3 million in its first weekend at 2,614 theaters. $3,940 theater average. Domestic total: $10.3 million.

3. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (Film District/Miramax) $8.7 million in its first weekend at 2,760 theaters. $3,148 theater average. Domestic total: $8.7 million.

4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Fox) $8.65 million down 46% in its fourth weekend at 3,374 theaters. $2,564 theater average. Domestic total: $148.5 million.

5. Our Idiot Brother (Weinstein) $6.6 million in its first weekend at 2,555 theaters. $2,578 theater average. Domestic total: $6.6 million.

6. Spy Kids: All The Time in the World (Weinstein/Dimension) $5.7 million down 51% in its second weekend at 3,305 theaters. $1,733 theater average. Domestic total: $21.7 million.

7. Smurfs (Sony) $4.8 million down 38% in its fifth weekend at 2,861 theaters. $1,678 theater average. Domestic total: $126 million.

8. Conan the Barbarian (Lionsgates) $3.1 million down 69% in its second weekend at 3,015 theaters. $1,029 theater average. Domestic total: $16.6 million.

9. Fright Night (DreamWorks/Disney) $3.029 million down 63% in its second weekend at 3,114 theaters. $973 theater average. Domestic total: $14.2 million.

10. Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Bros.) $2.905 million down 39% in its fifth weekend at 1,577 theaters. $1,842 theater average. Domestic total: $69.5 million.