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‘The Butler’ Close to ‘The Help”s Opening Numbers; Holdovers ‘We’re the Millers’ and ‘Elysium’ Beat Other Newcomers

'The Butler' Close to 'The Help''s Opening Numbers; Holdovers 'We're the Millers' and 'Elysium' Beat Other Newcomers

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” delivered as a major number one success for The Weinstein Co., exceeding expectations. But the overall weekend was another summer disappointment. Three of this week’s four openers fell from their Friday starts, showing bad word of mouth and lack of interest. “Kick-Ass 2” was supposed to compete for number one with “The Butler,” but underperformed relative to expectations. “Jobs” and especially “Paranoia” (which didn’t even make the top 10) were real bellyflops. The second weekend for both “We’re the Millers” and “Elysium” outgrossed all newbies except for “The Butler.”

The top 10 totaled $113 million, down $10 million from last year, when “The Expendables 2” opened to $28 million. “The Butler”‘s $25 million gross is the lowest for a weekend for a #1 since April, but this is in the normal range for a top grosser for mid-August and later.

1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Weinstein) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 66

$25,010,000 in 2,933 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $8,527; Cumulative: $25,010,000

Without question this marks a major triumph so far for the Weinsteins, Lee Daniels, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and the 41 or so producers associated with this contemporary history film, which ended up an easy #1 film for the weekend. Grossing in the same range as two similarly-themed films, “The Help” and “42,” which both grossed just over $27 million on their opening weekends (“The Help” had a two-day head start), “The Butler,” unusually for the Weinsteins, is a wide release summer awards contender outside of the late-year congestion.

The question is how it holds on. Many locations enjoyed multiple sold-out shows and even initial repeat viewings, with significant applause and emotional response. Unlike some Weinstein hits, this lacks initial awards-parallel marketing to boost and sustain interest as the weeks pass, which “The Help” didn’t need as it climbed to $169 million, playing deeply into autumn 2011. One key is how much of a crossover audience “The Butler” has. Both “42” and “The Help” played with substantial older audience support, and “The Help” had strong overall female interest in its favor.

This gross justifies continued strong marketing support (substantial advertising supplemented considerable publicity over the past weeks, including the silly title kerfuffle that kept it in the news). With a $30 million initial production cost, this looks like more than a success d’estime, assuming it reaches the usual three-time opening multiple that the average #1 film has.

What comes next: Next weekend’s results need to solidify forward momentum. So far this is off to a great start.

2. We’re the Millers (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last Weekend: #2

$17,780,000 (-33%) in 3,325 theaters (+65); PSA: $5,347; Cumulative: $69,513,000

Clearly the go-to comedy of the moment, “We’re the Millers” joins “The Heat” as the second big laffer of the season driven by a woman star. The raunchfest held very well its second weekend, and looks headed to an easy $100 million + domestic take.

What comes next: Like all studios, Warner Bros. has had both hits and misses this summer, but on balance they’ve had a strong season, and this puts an exclamation point on that even before it gets going in most foreign territories.

3. Elysium (Sony) Week 2 – Last weekend: #1

$13,600,000 (-54%) in 3,284 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $4,141; Cumulative: $55,914,000

bigger than 50% drop after a less than hoped for start is not
encouraging for Sony, as this independently financed $115 million
production is going to need a strong foreign return to break even for
all involved. Initial results in 20 new territories this weekend showed
all of them ahead of the returns of both director Neill Blomkamp’s
earlier “District 9” as well as this summer’s “Pacific Rim,” suggesting
that this could still be a success.

What comes next:The much
less expensive “District 9” grossed over $200 million worldwide with no
stars. This will likely end up bigger, but with much less profit.

4. Kick-Ass 2 (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: D+; Metacritic: 41

$13,568,000 in 2,940 theaters; PSA: $4,615; Cumulative: $13,600,000

Universal picked up domestic for this sequel after Lionsgate — as reliant on successful franchises as everyone else — passed on it after pushing “Kick-Ass” to $48 million (and strong DVD sales). Universal has the original overseas, and took worldwide rights for the independent $29 million production. The result was a let-down, a third lower than its predecessor opening weekend, and not much more than half what was projected this time around.

This stars Aaron Johnson (“Nowhere Boy” and “Anna Karenina”) and Jim Carrey, who disassociated himself with the project as too violent after completing it, and was directed by USC grad Jeff Wadlow (Summit’s 2008 “Never Back Down”), who happens to be Katie Couric’s nephew.

What comes next: These returns, barring a strong international showing, suggest the series may be at an end. Lionsgate called this one correctly.

5. Planes (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last Weekend: #3

$13,141,000 (-41%) in 3,716 theaters (+14); PSA: $3,535; Cumulative: $45,090,000

Falling about average for the second week of an animated release, this continues to play at a level below most Disney films. But with this much lower budget (not initially made for theatrical release) and the beginning of international play showing some promise, this will end up a modest success at least for the company.

What comes next: This will fall short of $100 million domestically, but still hasn’t been a bad August release (most animated films open earlier to maximize summer vacation audiences).

6. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (20th Century-Fox) Week 2 – Last Weekend: #4

$8,375,000 (-42%) in 3,080 theaters (+49); PSA: $2,719; Cumulative: $38,904,000

This was helped by the weakness of family-oriented films in its second weekend, with a better hold than the first “Percy Jackson” film in 2010. It still lags $19 million behind in its to-date gross though.

What comes next: Even if foreign does outgross domestic by a solid amount as happened last time, with the $90 million budget this time around, this will be in a gray area for justifying more entries for this possible franchise.

7. Jobs (Open Road) NEW – Cinemascore: B- ; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 43

$6,700,000 in 2,381 theaters; PSA: $2,814; Cumulative: $6,700,000

Open Road, the distribution consortium co-owned by exhibition giants Regal and AMC, acquired “Jobs” prior to its premiere showing at Sundance last January. It seemed like a logical fit for their pattern of picking up quality independent star-driven productions made outside the normal studio pattern, with niche films like “The Grey” and “End of Watch” showing real success. The Ashton Kutcher-starring “Jobs” turns out to be one of their lowest opening releases, as this biofilm about the Apple co-founder had a weak critical response with a star with a reputation mainly for comedies.

Like most of Open Road’s films, this was a lower-budget film (their acquisition expense likely focused more on marketing commitments), with an original expense of $12 million to its producers, which lessens the potential impact of this (it was sold separately to most territories around the world). For Kutcher, it ranks near the bottom of openings for his films, which for the most part have featured a strong co-star. The gross is almost identical to that of “Swing Vote,” director Joshua Michael Stern’s 2008 Kevin Costner-starring film for Disney.

What comes next: This likely drops out of the top 10 after one week, though it doesn’t hurt that many of its dates are at theaters owned by this company’s overseers.

8. 2 Guns (Universal) Week 3 – Last Weekend: #5

$5,600,000 (-50%) in 2,471 theaters (-557); PSA: $2,255; Cumulative: $59,200,000

Another 50% drop for this somewhat disappointing Denzel Washington/Mark Wahlberg action film, which will fall short of the $100 million that particularly the former normally can count on for this kind of release. International is in its early stages. This was relatively inexpensive — $60 million production budget — which eases the worries somewhat.

What comes next: As with several other disappointing releases starring similarly reliable male veterans, these returns will raise questions about the ability of names alone to draw in a male audience that usually has been the easiest to satisfy given the right combination of actor and action storyline.

9. The Smurfs 2 (Sony) Week 3 – Last Weekend: #6

$4,600,000 (-51%) in 2,349 theaters (-1,518); PSA: $1,958; Cumulative: $56,912,000

Passing $200 million worldwide this weekend, international, as it was the first time, is the big story for this animated film which has been a disappointment domestically and will end up only around half of what the first one did, at least in the U.S./Canada.

What comes next: The third go-round is already set for 2015 release, giving Sony time to tinker with the formula if necessary.

10. The Wolverine (Twentieth Century Fox) Week 4; Last Weekend: #7

$4,425,000 (-45%) in 2,058 theaters (-809); PSA: $2,510; Cumulative: $120,458,000

Hanging in there one more week, this gross remains mildly disappointing domestically because of costs (about what the gross has been so far), but with the worldwide total headed toward around $400 million, all told this is outperforming several other expensive late summer action films.

What comes next: The series continues with a wider array of characters next time around.

12. Paranoia (Relativity/EOne in Canada) NEW – Cinemascore: C; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 34

$3,500,000 in 2.459 theaters; PSA: $1,423; Cumulative: $3,500,000

A disastrous opening for this thriller that missed whatever audience it might have had (perhaps a bit more adult, with co-stars Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman both having shown in recent years the ability to draw in older audiences). Lead Liam Hemsworth, who has appeared in hits like “The Hunger Games,” “The Expendables 2” and “The Last Song,” totally struck out as a top draw, and terrible reviews took care of the rest.

This independently produced ($35 million cost) film was directed by Robert Luketic, whose biggest success remains his first film, “Legally Blonde” more than a decade ago. He also paired with “Jobs” star Ashton Kutcher for “Killers,” which managed to open at almost $16 million in 2010. For Relativity, who had a success with “Safe Haven” earlier this year, this is their worst wide release opening ever.

What comes next: Australian Hemsworth has “Catching Fire,” the “Hunger Games” sequel ahead to salve his wounds.

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