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Box Office: 'The Help' repeats at No. 1 over Labor Day weekend [Updated]

September 5, 2011 |  9:28 am

The Help was No 1 at the box office for the 3rd weekend in a row

"The Help" got the job done yet again at the box office over the Labor Day weekend, claiming the No. 1 spot for the third consecutive week. 

Almost four weeks ago, the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's novel opened behind "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." But thanks to phenomenal word of mouth, the movie has been No. 1 every weekend since then.

Over the four-day holiday weekend, the film sold $19 million domestically, according to an estimate from distributor Walt Disney Studios. The movie's ticket sales stayed virtually the same compared to last weekend -- an unlikely feat for a film that has been in theaters as long as it has. The picture, which stars an ensemble cast featuring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Emma Stone, has accumulated $123.4 million after 27 days in release.

Labor Day weekend is traditionally one of the slowest of the year for the movie business, and 2011 was no exception. Three new films opened, but none could muster impressive ticket sales. "The Debt," a Holocaust action drama, had a better-than-expected debut, grossing $12.6 million during the long weekend. The science-fiction film "Apollo 18" took in $10.7 million -- falling short of industry projections that it would win the weekend with around $15 million. The thriller "Shark Night 3D," which had the benefit of 3D ticket surcharges, scared up a modest $10.3 million.

Focus Features released "The Debt" -- a remake of a small 2007 Israeli picture, "Ha-Hov" -- on Wednesday in an attempt to generate positive buzz about the film before the weekend. The move seemed to pay off. Audience surveys indicated the film would collect only about $7 million this weekend, but after five days in theaters, its total stands at $14.5 million.

The movie, which received the best reviews by far of any film opening this weekend, was also the debut most-liked by audiences. Those who saw the film starring Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain -- 70% of whom were at least 40 years old -- gave it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore. 

"The Debt" was completed two years ago, but had its release date moved numerous times because the film was made by Miramax. In 2009, the specialty division -- then owned by the Walt Disney Co. -- was shut down, and the film was without distribution until Focus later acquired its U.S. rights. Universal Pictures is releasing the movie abroad, where it has so far grossed $2 million in three countries.

"Apollo 18" is the latest movie this year from Weinstein Co.'s Dimension Films label -- after "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D" and "Scream 4" -- to underperform. 

The sci-fi film, which purports to show "found footage" from a U.S. space mission, has no major stars. Its mysterious marketing campaign revealed little about the film's story. The movie received a dismal average grade of D from movie-goers, indicating they may have expected something quite different from what they got. Those who saw the movie were 57% male, and 56% were under age 25. 

Like "Apollo 18," "Shark Night 3D" was not screened in advance for critics -- usually a sign that a studio is nervous about its reception. Indeed, those who saw the film about a shark that targets vacationers were hardly enamored with it -- giving it an average grade of C. The movie appealed slightly more to females -- accounting for 52% of the audience -- while 57% was under the age of 25.

The film, produced for about $25 million by Incentive Filmed Entertainment and Sierra/Affinity, is being released by was released by Relativity Media, which is covering the picture's marketing and distribution expenses.

[Updated at 9:53 a.m., Sept. 5: "The Smurfs" crossed the $400-million mark at the global box office this weekend. The film, playing in 71 foreign countries, raked in $23.3 million overseas this weekend thanks to strong performances in France and the United Arab Emirates. The movie's foreign-market tally now stands at an impressive $295.8 million -- more than double the $133.6-million domestic total.

Here are the top 10 movies in the U.S. and Canada, based on their four-day grosses. Percentage changes from last weekend are based on three-day grosses. International grosses are through Sunday.

1. "The Help" (Disney/Dreamworks/Participant): $19 million on its fourth weekend, no change from last weekend. $1.7 million overseas in 1 foreign market. Domestic total: $123.4 million.

2. "The Debt" (Miramax/Focus): Opened to $12.6 million. $2 million overseas in 3 foreign markets. Domestic total: $14.5 million.

3. "Apollo 18" (Weinstein Co.): Opened to $10.7 million.

4. "Shark Night 3D" (Relativity/Incentive/Sierra/Affinity): Opened to $10.3 million.

5. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (Fox/Dune/Ingenious):  $10.3 million on its fifth weekend, down 11%. $19.4 million overseas in 52 foreign markets. Domestic total: $162.5 million. International total: $186.5 million.

6. "Colombiana" (Sony/EuropaCorp): $9.4 million on its second weekend, down 28%. Domestic total: $24 million.

7. "Our Idiot Brother" (Weinstein Co./YUK Films/Big Beach): $7 million on its second weekend, down 22%. Domestic total: $17.3 million.

8. "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D" (Weinstein Co.): $6.6 million on its third weekend, down 20%. Domestic total: $31 million.

9. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (Miramax/FilmDistrict): $5.1 million on its second weekend, down 40%. Domestic total: $17.6 million.

10. "The Smurfs" (Sony): $4.1 million on its sixth weekend, down 14%. $23.3 million overseas in 71 foreign markets. Domestic total: $133.6 million. International total: $295.8 million.]


Movie review: 'The Debt'

NASA reaches its outer limit

Movie Projector: 'Apollo 18' could float to No. 1 over slow holiday

--Amy Kaufman

Photo: Octavia Spencer, left, and Viola Davis star in "The Help." Credit: Dreamworks