B.O. eye on ‘Help,’ Hurricane Irene

Disney-Dreamworks pic could again top newcomers

The quiet days of August turn out to have been the ideal spot for “The Help,” which is poised to top Stateside box office again. The Disney-DreamWorks pic is pitted against a trio of wide releases all of which are likely to earn less than $15 million.

The imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene on the East Coast could also hit weekend B.O., which isn’t expected to keep up with the same frame last year, when “Takers” and “The Last Exorcism” bowed with $20.5 million and $20.4 million, respectively.

Horror pic “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” which FilmDistrict is launching at 2,760 U.S. locations, is tracking in the $10 million-$12 million range, and the Weinstein Co.’s Sundance comedy pickup “Our Idiot Brother,” at 2,555, is expecting to achieve a similar performance in the low teens. Actioner “Colombiana,” which Sony acquired as a service deal, should figure in the $7 million-$8 million range, according to B.O. pundits.

Overseas box office could see more of the same as few debut titles enter the fray against Sony’s repeat champ “The Smurfs,” which has cumed $211.5 million after four weeks. “Cowboys and Aliens,” with a cume of $17.8 million, stands the best chance of unseating “Smurfs” as it expands into 18 markets including France, Germany and Mexico.

Last weekend, disappointing B.O. returns for the new entries had bizzers blaming negative reviews and poor audience reaction, while “The Help,” as well as Fox’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” continue to hold well based on strong word of mouth. “The Help” has grossed almost $80 million through Wednesday; “Apes,” $138.4 million.

Responding to the title’s hold on the market, Disney is adding another 88 locations for “The Help”; the Mouse added 156 last weekend, based on exhib demand. In total, “The Help” will have 2,778 U.S. engagements this weekend.

It’s extremely rare for a film to rank No. 1 for multiple consecutive weeks following a debut that was not in the top spot. “The Blind Side” climbed to No. 1 in its third frame — so did “True Grit” — but neither film managed to stay on top in its fourth outing.

“The Help” isn’t likely to reach overall domestic totals comparable to “The Blind Side” ($255 million), since the latter pic played through Christmas and first-quarter 2010. Likewise, “True Grit, with a cume of $171 million, benefited from increased moviegoing during the 2010 holidays, as well as an awards-season boost.

“The Help” stands as one of the summer’s most pleasant surprises regardless of final totals.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and “Our Idiot Brother” could attract similar auds — namely, femmes under 25 — though “Brother” also boasts strong interest from male moviegoers. Both limit some younger auds given their R ratings.

Produced by Guillermo del Toro, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” stars Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison. Pic was financed by Miramax for a reported $28 million (FilmDistrict picked up distribution rights after the Disney-Miramax divorce). FilmDistrict, which footed the P&A bill, marketed the film heavily based on popularity for del Toro.

Meanwhile, “Our Idiot Brother,” which toplines Paul Rudd as the title sibling, cost TWC $6 million coming out of Sundance, with an added minimum P&A commitment around $15 million. Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer and Zooey Deschanel co-star as Rudd’s sisters.

The weekend’s third wide release, “Colombiana,” was fully financed by EuropaCorp. Sony signed on to distribute and market the film Stateside through its TriStar label, as well as handle some Latin American territories. Pic tells the story of a young woman (Zoe Saldana) who witnesses the murder of her parents and grows up to be an assassin.

A pair of Sundance pics, “Higher Ground” and “Circumstance,” bow in limited release.

“Higher Ground,” Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut from Sony Pictures Classics, opens at three locations in New York and L.A., while Roadside Attractions’ Iranian gay-themed drama “Circumstance” bows today at seven U.S. playdates.

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