Box Office: 'The Help' claims No. 1 over four new films [Updated]
"The Help" didn't need any assistance at the box office this weekend, claiming the No. 1 spot while four new films labored to gross similar ticket sales.
After getting off to a solid start at the box office last week, "The Help" added an impressive $20.5 million to its domestic tally this weekend, according to an estimate from distributor Walt Disney Studios. The film about civil rights in 1960s Mississippi benefitted from positive word-of-mouth, with ticket sales dropping only 21% and the film's current total rising to $71.8 million.
But that was about the only good news at the box office this weekend, where a new action movie, a family film, a horror flick and a romantic drama all did lackluster business. They were all outgrossed not only by "The Help," but also holdover "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," which has now been in theaters for three weekends. The film about simians who attempt to conquer the Earth took in another $16.3 million, raising its tally to a strong $133.8 million.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the weekend was the performance of "Conan the Barbarian," a reworking of the 1982 film that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger that pre-release audience surveys indicated had a shot of claiming the No. 1 spot this weekend. The film was expected to gross $15 million at the very least, but instead came in with only $10 million.
Instead, the strong man was beaten by "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D," the latest installment in the kid-friendly franchise directed by Robert Rodriguez. The movie, released in 3-D and so-called 4-D -- which offers viewers a chance to smell certain scenes in the picture -- collected a soft $12 million. Meanwhile, "Fright Night," also a remake of an eighties film, could scare up only a weak $8.3 million -- and that figure includes receipts from Thursday evening, when the 3-D film opened early in 1,700 locations nationwide. Trailing behind was "One Day," an adaptation of David Nicholls' bestselling novel, which was released in about 1,000 fewer theaters than the other new releases and sold a so-so $5.1 million worth of tickets.
Lionsgate had high hopes for "Conan," which stars "Game of Thrones" actor Jason Momoa as the sword-wielding barbarian. First created by author Robert E. Howard in the 1930s, Conan has long resonated with a male audience. But that fan base apparently wasn't as eager to see the latest incarnation of the brute, who has also appeared in Marvel comic books and a Saturday morning cartoon program.
Those who saw the film -- indeed, a 62% male audience -- didn't like it that much, assigning the movie an average grade of B-, according to market research firm CinemaScore. About 60% of ticket sales came from 3-D ticket receipts.
The film was financed for $90 million by Nu Image and later acquired by Lionsgate, which paid $25 million for distribution rights in North America and the United Kingdom.
Even though the fourth "Spy Kids" film was able to finish ahead of "Conan," Dimension Films -- the Weinstein Co.-owned label distributing the film -- was hoping the film's weekend gross would be at least in the mid-teens.
The film, produced for about $27 million, opened to substantially less than the third movie in the series about kids on an undercover adventure, "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over," which debuted to $33.4 million in 2003 and ultimately grossed $197 million worldwide. Those who saw the fourth "Spy Kids" film this weekend gave it an average grade of B+. Still, it seems unlikely that the latest installment will end up with as high of a total gross as the third "Spy Kids," despite the advent of 4-D -- which involves giving moviegoers scratch-and-sniff cards that allow them to smell one of eight odors correlating with particular scenes.
In an effort to build buzz before the weekend, distributor Disney released "Fright Night" on Thursday at 9 p.m., a few hours before the weekend officially began. But those screenings, which were offered only in 3-D, did not generate much in ticket sales -- only about $200,000, according to the studio. By weekend's end, 64% of the business came from 3-D ticket sales.
The new version of the 1985 film about a vampire out to kill his teenage neighbor was produced by DreamWorks SKG for about $30 million. While it earned the best reviews of any new film released this weekend, those who saw the movie -- a 60% male crowd -- gave it an average grade of only B-.
"One Day," which received overwhelmingly negative critical reviews, was also assigned a weak average grade of B- by the mostly older female crowd that saw it. The movie, which stars Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as a couple in an up-and-down romantic relationship, was produced by Focus Features and Random House Films for about $15 million.
[Updated at 1:28 p.m. Aug. 21: Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, with international grosses when available, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:
2. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (Fox/Dune/Ingenious): $16.3 million on its third weekend, down 41%. $29.6 million overseas in 48 foreign markets. Domestic total: $133.8 million. International total: $123.7 million.
3. "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D" (Weinstein Co.): Opened to $12 million.
4. "Conan the Barbarian" (Lionsgate/Nu Image): Opened to $10 million.
5. "Fright Night" (Disney/Dreamworks): Opened to $8.3 million*.
6. "The Smurfs" (Sony): $8 million on its fourth weekend, down 42%. $35.3 million overseas in 54 foreign markets. Domestic total: $117.7 million. International total: $211.4 million.
7. "Final Destination 5" (Warner Bros.): $7.7 million on its second weekend, down 57%. Domestic total: $32.2 million.
8. "30 Minutes or Less" (Sony/MRC): $6.3 million on its second weekend, down 53%. Domestic total: $25.8 million.
9. "One Day" (Focus/Random House): Opened to $5.1 million.
10. "Crazy, Stupid, Love" (Warner Bros.): $5 million on its fourth weekend, down 30%. $4.2 million overseas in 12 foreign markets. Domestic total: $64.4 million. International total: $5.1 million.
* - Includes Thursday night screenings]
-- Amy Kaufman
Photo: Viola Davis, left, and Octavia Spencer star in "The Help." Credit: DreamWorks SKG