Lionsgate scarer beats modest newcomers 'The Words,' 'Cold Light of Day'

How low can it go, box office observers wondered at the start of the weekend.

It turned out the domestic box office could go very low indeed, ending up with the lowest domestic three-day tally in more than a decade, just north of $60 million. Wide openers “The Words” and “The Cold Light of Day” turned in forgettable bows, while Lionsgate’s horror holdover “The Possession” continued to haunt the No. 1 slot with $9.5 million.

Expectations for this weekend were low to begin with, as the post-Labor Day frame traditionally is one of the weakest B.O. seshes of the year. But the severe lack of interest in moviegoing this weekend is causing concern in Hollywood. “The industry has a real problem,” said CBS Films distribution topper Steven Friedlander. “The concept of the pie being relatively constant is a fallacy. Now, more than ever, we have to give (moviegoers) a reason to leave the house.”

Three-day totals are the lowest of any weekend since Sept. 21-23, 2001, when the domestic B.O. rang up $59.7 million just 10 days after 9/11, when no films were able to crack $10 million.

“The Words,” which CBS Films acquired for $2 million, underperformed with $5 million from 2,801 engagements, while Summit’s $20 million-budgeted “The Cold Light of Day” (at 1,511 locations) tallied just $1.8 million through Sunday.

The weekend’s newcomers failed to make up for the absence of Warner Bros.’ “Gangster Squad,” which originally was slated to bow Friday but moved to 2013 after the July 20 shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

While none of the frame’s domestic players were expected to hit double-digits, “Possession” held far better than expected (especially for a horror pic), down just 46%. “Possession” so far has tallied $33.3 million domestically.

In second place domestically, the Weinstein Co.’s “Lawless” grossed $6 million, off 40% in its second outing, for a Stateside cume of $23.5 million.

Friedlander described this weekend as a kind of double whammy because “we don’t put our big films on this date, also kids are back in school, and football.” He added that on-demand television is a growing — underestimated — form of competition for the film industry.

“Films that look like good television have to be better than television,” Friedlander said.

Sundance slew

A few specialty players fought against the weekend’s overall moviegoing malaise, notably, Sundance comedy “Bachelorette,” which debuted at 47 domestic runs and grossed $191,033 for a per-screen average of $4,065. “Bachelorette” is the first release for TWC’s Radius banner, and raked in an estimated $4 million on VOD before its theatrical launch.

Loki Films’ “Detropia,” which won the documentary editing prize at Sundance, launched solidly at New York’s IFC Center with an estimated $18,350. The docu was bumped up into a larger auditorium after selling out multiple showtimes throughout the weekend.

While some Sundance titles are sprinkled through summer, the bulk of titles acquired in Park City tend to roll out around this time each year, though six in one weekend is a noteworthy coincidence.

This weekend’s remaining Sundance titles included Todd Louiso’s Melanie Lynskey starrer “Hello I Must Be Going,” which grossed a solid $13,382 per-screen average from two locations, as well as Tribeca Films’ “For Ellen” and gay-themed pic “Keep the Lights On,” from Music Box.

Tribeca Film opened So-Yong Kim’s “For Ellen,” starring Paul Dano, at New York’s Film Forum, where it grossed an estimated $6100 for the 3-day weekend and $7282 for the 5-day cume since its Wednesday opening.

“The Words” was the Sundance pack’s only wide release. CBS Films launched the film this weekend hoping it would develop a following among femmes. And while it received an OK B CinemaScore, the film’s playability is less than certain since it’s been getting mostly negative reviews.

Pic, which stars Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana, played overwhelmingly (78%) toward auds over 25, which is largely why it rose 31% from Friday to Saturday.

Summit’s “Cold Light of Day,” meanwhile, was originally slated for a limited bow this weekend, but exhibitors requested that Summit go wide with it after “Gangster Squad” left a large vacancy.

The thriller, toplining Henry Cavill, Sigourney Weaver and Bruce Willis, was cofinanced by Intrepid Pictures. Investors reduced financial risk through international licensing and pre-sales, as well as Spanish production subsidies.

Sluggish o’seas sesh

The B.O.’s early fall blues also hit overseas results. “The Expendables 2″ won the frame with an estimated $14 million, according to Rentrak, followed by “The Bourne Legacy” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” which collected $13 million each.

“Dark Knight Rises” fell a staggering 74% from last weekend, almost entirely due to the film’s steep 60% soph-sesh decline in China. But “The Amazing Spider-Man” fell even further during its second outing at the Chinese B.O., down 73%.

“Rises” grossed $5.7 million this weekend locally vs. $3.6 million for “Spider-Man” in China.

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