Several other films are holding well, as some ticket buyers catch up on films they missed while glued to the Olympics. Overall, the numbers are not discouraging heading into what is usually a slow period.
Of note, far below the Top 10, is the possibly record-breaking low performance far a wide release. The indie animated film " The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure" opened Wednesday and grossed an incredibly low average of $207 per screen in over 2,100 theaters. That averages out, kids' ticket prices factored in, to fewer than 30 patrons per theater for the entire weekend. With a reported combined production and marketing cost of $60 million, this could be a new low in cost to return ratio.
1. "The Possession" (Lionsgate) - NEW Cinemascore: B; (Metacritic score: 46)
$17,725 in 2,816 theaters; PSA (6,294,000); Cumulative: $17,725,000
A low budget horror/thriller wide release is as de rigeur for Labor Day weekend as the start of college football, Telluride and the Muscular Dystrophy telethon. A horror film at #1 is no surprise, especially any time it's been a while since one opened.
With a budget of around $14 million, this looks like a solid money maker for Lionsgate and Sam Raimi's Ghost House Productions. For Raimi, whose roots were in horror films ("Evil Dead," "Darkman") long before becoming the Spider-Man auteur, this is another in a steady line of genre successes he has overseen. The biggest hit of these was "The Grudge," which grossed a terrific $110 million in 2004.
For Lionsgate, it's another day at the office -- they reliably turn out several lower budget successes a year. Assuming this holds through the weekend, this will make seven weeks at number one for them so far this year, equaling Universal for the most at the top, with the next "Twilight" entry still to come.
Danish director Ole Bornedal, best known for both the original and US remake of "Nightwatch," returns to American filmmaking after four Danish films which got little or no domestic attention. This is a huge leap up for him in gross -- the Miramax/Dimension "Nightwatch" only grossed a little over $1 million in 1998.
What comes next: The full weekend gross could be strong enough to make a sequel logical.
2. "Lawless" (Weinstein) - NEW (Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic score: 58)
$9,674,000 in 2,888 theaters; PSA: $3,350; Cumulative: $11,816,000
This was expected to be in a fairly close race for the #1 this weekend. With "The Possession" overperforming Friday and "Lawless" appealing more to older audiences who aren't reliable Friday attendees, the gap will tighten somewhat.
The third 2012 Cannes competition film to open in the US pre-Labor Day (the most in many years), it's the rare one to open wide ("Drive" and "Inglorious Basterds" were the two most recent). The Weinsteins might have considered a more conventional platform release, but with tepid reviews and Shia LaBoeuf in the lead, going wide seems to have been the right call. Also, this, like those two films, is an action film; it's set in the rural south of the 1930s as gangsters fight bootleggers for control.
The last seven of LaBoeuf's films opened at #1 -- not just his tentpole starrers, but also "Wall Street Money Never Sleeps" and "Disturbia." This one rests more on him than the others (although Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce and Jessica Chastain also add name value to the cast). The actor has stated an interest in focusing more on indie productions than big-budget ones for now, so this film is transitional for him.
For Australian director John Hillcoat, this easily outdistances his underperformer "The Road," which Weinstein pushed to $8 million in North America without ever passing 400 theaters in any one week. But it does not look like a breakout success.