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Weekend Box Office: The Help and The Debt Throw Sharks, Apollo 18 Out of Orbit

Thompson on Hollywood By Anthony D'Alessandro | Thompson on Hollywood September 4, 2011 at 4:55AM

Adults are saving the Labor Day Weekend box office, reports Anthony D'Alessandro:Similar to last year's Labor Day box office when The American ruled, adults flocked to the holiday cinema once again with DreamWorks/Disney's The Help taking No. 1 with $14.2 million over three days and Focus Features' critically acclaimed The Debt paying off in second with $9.7 million.
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Thompson on Hollywood

Adults are saving the Labor Day Weekend box office, reports Anthony D'Alessandro:

Similar to last year's Labor Day box office when The American ruled, adults flocked to the holiday cinema once again with DreamWorks/Disney's The Help taking No. 1 with $14.2 million over three days and Focus Features' critically acclaimed The Debt paying off in second with $9.7 million.

The notion that nobody goes to the movies over Labor Day because they're getting their last minute summer fix is false. History has shown that whenever there’s a signature franchise genre film in the market--Dimension’s record 2007 four-day holiday opener Halloween ($30.6 million), or a high brow adult film--folks will break from the barbeque. This weekend's battle of the B pics are fighting for third place: Dimension’s Apollo 18 floated $8.7 million while Relativity Media’s Shark Night 3D chewed $8.64 million. Astronauts and sharks will continue to be at each others throats into tomorrow when they're both expected to mint about $10.5 million apiece over four days.

Commenting on the lackluster offerings, one journo quipped on Twitter "SHARK NIGHT 3D and APOLLO 18: Both horror. Both PG-13. Both run 86 min. Both tied for 24% on RT. Are we sure these aren't the same movie?"

Through its first six days, from Wednesday to Monday, The Debt is expected to clear $14.1 million. Though not as lofty as last Labor Day's The American which generated $19.8 million over the same frame, The Debt is pacing 11% ahead of Focus' 2005 Oscar contender The Constant Gardener which counted $12.7 million in its first six days. What drove last year's The American to a slightly higher gross than The Debt was marquee draw George Clooney. Though Debt stars Sam Worthington, his box office track record has been short, not to mention, the titles of his films are bigger than him, read Terminator: Salvation, Clash of the Titans and Avatar, ensuring box office success. By all accounts, this is Worthington's first prolific adult feature.

The headlines surrounding The Debt were for Jessica Chastain, who is logging six films this year after sensational turns in The Tree of Life and The Help. Critics loved Debt at 77% fresh and audiences gave it a B CinemaScore. If they could squeeze a best supporting for Rachel Weisz out of Constant Gardener, the sky’s the limit with Chastain.

In the vein of Paranormal Activity, Dimension tried to market Apollo 18 in a similar viral, cryptic vein, prompting debate about whether it was a documentary or horror thriller about a failed 1972 moon mission. NASA foiled any suspicion after revealing that they were minimally involved in the picture as well as the fact that the last manned mission to the moon was Apollo 17. Audiences didn’t buy it with a D CinemaScore, but young males came out respectively at 57% and 56% (under 25).

Shark Night 3D was a simple service deal for Relativity Media which handled P&A for the $25 million thriller, financed by Sierra/Affinity. Pic, which was promoted at Comic-Con, drew 52% female and 57% under 25 as well as an 80% non-Caucasian audience. Relativity picked a late summer release date much like Dimension’s Piranha 3D ($10.1 million bow, $25 million domestic final) release a year which also boasted sea creature scares. It's nearly on target, but over four days. Overall CinemaScore was a C, but the under 18 crowd gave it a B-. Warner Bros. proved back in 1999 with Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea ($73.6 million domestic, $164.6 million global) that it was still possible to hook shiploads of audiences with this subgenre in a post-Jaws age.

Top 10 Box Office Chart (distributors provided 4-day estimates as noted).

1. The Help (Disney/DreamWorks) $14.2 million down 2% in its fourth weekend at 2,843 theaters. $4,998 theater average. 4-day estimate: $18 million. Domestic total: $118.6 million.
2. The Debt (Focus Feature/Miramax) $9.7 million in its first weekend at 1,826 theaters. $5,300 theater average. 4-day estimate: $12.2 million. Domestic total: $11.6 million in its first five days.
3. Apollo 18 (Dimension/Weinstein) $8.7 million in its first weekend at 3,328 theaters. $2,614 theater average. 4-day estimate: $10.5 million. Domestic total: $8.7 million.
4. Shark Night 3D (Relativity) $8.64 million in its first weekend at 2,806 theaters. $3,079 theater average. 4-day estimate: $10.5 million. Domestic total: $8.64 million.
5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Fox) $7.8 million down 12% in its fifth weekend at 3,193 theaters. $2,443 theater average. Domestic total: $160 million.
6. Colombiana (Sony/Tri-Star/Europa) $7.4 million down 29% in its second weekend at 2,614 theaters. $2,831 theater average. 4-day estimate: $9.3 million Domestic total: $21.96 million.
7. Idiot Brother (Weinstein) $5.182 million down 26% in its second week at 2,555. Theater average $2,028. Domestic total: $15.4 million.
8. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Film District/Miramax) $4.9 million down 42% in its second weekend at 2,780 theaters. $1,777 theater average. 4-day estimate: $5.85 million. $16.4 million
9. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (Dimension) $4.6 million down 23% in its third weekend at 3,007 theaters. $1,542 theater average. Domestic total: $29 million.
10. The Smurfs (Sony) $4 million down 16% in its sixth weekend at 2,706 theaters. $1,478 theater average. Domestic total: $132 million.

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.