'The Help' takes top spot at box office


Irene was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Sunday, but the weekend already was a lost cause for many theaters in its path. Studio executives estimate that about 1,000 theaters shut down for at least part of the weekend and that business may have been off 15 to 20 percent because of the storm.

"It was a wild weekend," said Dave Hollis, head of distribution at Disney, which released DreamWorks Pictures' "The Help." "All things considered, to kind of come out with business down only 15 to 20 percent is something to be pretty thankful for."

"The Help" has been the No. 1 film for two-straight weekends. The acclaimed adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's novel about black Southern maids sharing stories about white employers amid the civil-rights movement raised its domestic total to $96.6 million and should cross the $100 million mark Tuesday. Late August often is a dumping ground for movies with slim commercial prospects, and Irene cut even further into receipts for the weekend's three new wide releases.

Zoe Saldana's action tale "Colombiana," released by Sony, opened in second-place with $10.3 million. Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes' horror story "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," a FilmDistrict release, debuted in third with $8.7 million. Paul Rudd's comedy "Our Idiot Brother," distributed by the Weinstein Co., premiered at No. 5 with $6.6 million.

"Colombiana" features "Avatar" star Saldana as an assassin out for revenge against the drug lords responsible for her parents' deaths. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," produced by Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth," is a remake of the 1970s TV movie about a household terrorized by tiny, savage creatures. "Our Idiot Brother" stars Rudd as a happy-go-lucky guy doing time with his three sisters after serving a short prison sentence.

Business was strong Friday night for "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" in the New York City area, but as the storm crept closer Saturday, theaters either closed or became ghost towns, said Bob Berney, FilmDistrict's head of distribution.

Berney said he stopped by a theater complex in suburban Westchester County Saturday night and only about 25 people had turned out for 7:30 p.m. shows.

"It was just dead," Berney said. "They were open but no one was there, whereas in Manhattan, I think all the theaters were closed."

Studios base their weekend reports on actual revenues for Friday and Saturday and estimates for business on Sunday.

But this weekend's numbers were more of a shot in the dark. Some theaters did not report their weekend grosses, and it was uncertain how many cinemas might remain closed Sunday or how big an audience might turn up in the wake of the storm.

"I think everybody is trying to lean toward conservative estimates," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution at Sony, who said "Colombiana" managed to beat the studio's projections of an $8 million opening weekend despite the weather.

Overall business plunged, with domestic revenues totaling $88 million, down 23 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Takers" led with $20.5 million, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.

"It's not like this was destined to be a blockbuster weekend, anyway," said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "But going to the movies is not a top priority when you're concerned about severe weather."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers also are included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. "The Help," $14.3 million.
2. "Colombiana," $10.3 million.
3. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," $8.7 million.
4. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," $8.65 million ($22.1 million international).
5. "Our Idiot Brother," $6.6 million.
6. "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World," $5.7 million.
7. "The Smurfs," $4.8 million.
8. "Conan the Barbarian," $3.1 million.
9. "Fright Night," $3 million.
10. "Crazy, Stupid, Love," $2.9 million.

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