Trio of new releases in horse race for second place

Fending off a new trio of openers, Disney’s “The Help” stayed on top for its third Friday in a row with $3.634 million.

Down about 17% from last week, “Help” is on track to win again in its fourth frame. Labor Day weekend isn’t big for moviegoers, so the Mouse’s drama should only need its projected $14 million to $15 million to wind up on top.

The race for second has a lot of fresh faces fighting neck and neck. Relativity’s release “Shark Night 3D” and Weinstein Co.’s “Apollo 18″ both earned about $2.8 million last night, with Focus Features’ “The Debt” only slightly behind with $2.6 million.

Pre-weekend estimates have “Apollo 18″ pulling ahead of “Shark Night” for the 4-day weekend, but it’s not a sure win. Weinstein’s lunar set horror pic has about 1,300 locations over “Shark Night,” but between genre and PG-13 ratings, both are vying for the same aud. Pics could gross between $10 million and $13 million through Monday.

Meanwhile, “Debt” opened Wednesday to just under $1 million and is looking at a 6-day of about $8 million. However, it is very slightly outpacing Focus’s 2005 release “The Constant Gardener,” which made $12.7 million in as many days during the same frame.

Sony’s revenge thriller “Colombiana” came in fifth, finally pushing out Fox’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” with $2 million.

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