‘Help’ tops weekend B.O.

Newcomers struggle against holdovers

Holdovers set the pace this weekend at the worldwide box office: “The Help,” Disney-DreamWorks’ diverse crowdpleaser, surged in its soph sesh to top the Stateside chart with an estimated $20.5 million, while Sony’s “The Smurfs” led overseas B.O. for its second straight week, grossing $30.5 million.

As for U.S. newcomers, results were hardly worth bragging about — even by low August B.O. standards.

The Weinstein Co.’s 3D kidpic “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” fared best, with its estimated third-place take of $12 million. Lionsgate’s “Conan the Barbarian” — also in 3D — followed with a soft $10 million estimate through Sunday.

The remaining opening pair, “Fright Night” and “One Day,” struggled to crack $10 million: Disney-DreamWorks’ 3D horror remake grossed $8.3 million, while femme-targeted lit adaptation “One Day,” from Focus Features, landed at the low end of industry expectations with $5.1 million.

Overall totals at the domestic B.O. were down 3% from last year’s unimpressive frame (“The Expendables” won with $17 million in its second weekend; “Vampires Suck” was the best of four debut titles with $12.2 million).

Though August is traditionally soft at the B.O., studios have found a sweet spot of late slotting femme-skewing lit adaptations such as “Eat Pray Love” and “Julie and Julia” after the main tentpole push.

Boosting B.O., “The Help” held extremely well this weekend, down only 21%. Domestic cume is $71.8 million.

The Disney-DreamWorks pic’s tight hold — much better than even the most optimistic projected declines of around 30% — indicates that “The Help” continues to broaden demographically. That’s demonstrated by strong returns from the L.A.’s ArcLight Sherman Oaks theater, the film’s third-highest grossing location. (Last weekend, “The Help’s” top five engagements came from outside New York or L.A. in cities including Memphis, Tenn., and Jackson, Miss.)

“The hope was always that ‘The Help’ would be a breath of fresh air after the shoot-’em-up tentpole season,” said Dave Hollis, exec VP of motion pictures sales and distribution for Disney. “And it’s become exactly that.”

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “The Smurfs” also are benefiting Stateside from positive buzz, off 41% and 42%, respectively. “Smurfs” took in an estimated $8 million for the weekend, bringing domestic cume to $117.7 million; “Apes” has cumed $133.8 million.

Overseas, “Apes” played second only to “Smurfs,” with an estimated $29.6 million from 48 markets, bringing the Fox pic’s international tally to $123.7 million.

Prior to the weekend, most B.O. pundits had put “Conan” and “Fright Night” at the top of the domestic race, competing with “Apes” for second place. Bizzers lowered their weekend expectations after Friday’s soft perf for both openers; Fridays typically see the best take for fanboy-driven films.

“We had the wind on our backs with good reviews for ‘Fright Night,'” Hollis said. “Then you hit Friday night, and the film just didn’t do what a young-adult skewing film should have done.”

Under-25 aud malaise

“Fright Night” played mostly to auds over 26, with 60% of the opening, while the male-female breakdown was also 60%-40% .

Hollis said the film garnered positive responses from both general auds and fans of the 1985 original at advanced screenings. Still, general exit polls for “Fright Night” this weekend were less enthusiastic, with the pic earning a B- CinemaScore rating.

Likewise, “Conan” received an overall B- rating from a predominately over-25 male aud. According to Lionsgate distrib exec David Spitz, interest among the film’s core demo wasn’t especially high. “We’re disappointed with the overall box office performance this weekend,” Spitz said.

Despite mostly over-25 turnout, “Conan” and “Fright Night” hit higher-than-average 3D shares, at 60% and 64%, respectively. That’s equal to (if not better than) earlier 3D tentpoles like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (60%) and “Green Lantern” (45%) but less than last weekend’s genre pic “Final Destination 5” at 75%.

‘Spy’ on family target?

The opening for the Weinstein Co.’s fourth “Spy Kids” installment was OK considering the pic cost a reported $27.5 million and should cume around $36 million domestically, according to TWC.

Pic’s future returns are limited since about half of all kids go back to school this week, cutting into the potential midweek earnings.

Spy Kids 4” came in significantly lower than any of its predecessors. The second installment, which bowed Aug. 7, 2002, earned $16.7 million from Friday to Sunday, with $25 million in five days. That pic cumed $85.6 million domestically for the franchise’s lowest Stateside total to date.

“Spy Kids” played best with female auds, at 67%, consisting mainly of moms accompanying their kids, who according to Erik Lomis, distribution prexy for Weinstein, were mostly under age 11.

Surprisingly given its young aud, “Spy Kids” did 46% of its biz from 3D — better than “Smurfs,” which earned 45% of its opening in 3D. “Spy Kids” even had fewer 3D locations, with roughly 1,300 or 40% of the film’s total 3,295 domestic playdates.

Femme B.O. overload

Stellar turnout for “The Help,” especially among female audiences, took away some steam from similarly-targeted “One Day,” which also played slightly better to young adults.

“We got the demos we were hoping to get, but of course, we would have liked more,” said Focus Features theatrical distribution prexy Jack Foley, before adding that he feels “The Help” sparked an increase in moviegoing among women. “That’s a really important contributor to the box office.”

Based on the popular David Nicholls novel, “One Day” lacked the rabid fanbase for Kathtryn Stockett’s longtime bestseller “The Help.”

“One Day,” which launched at the fewest locations (1,721) of any of the weekend’s wide releases, had a 2% bump from Friday to Saturday, significantly less than the film’s projected 20% bump on Saturday. Matinee to twilight shows (4-5 p.m.) that day saw the most growth over Friday, up 25%, boosted by adult moviegoers.

In limited Stateside release, 2011’s top specialty release “Midnight in Paris,” from Sony Pictures Classics, crossed the $50 million mark over the weekend. SPC plans to re-release the film on Friday at more than 500 locations (pic’s currently at 258).

Meanwhile, NeoClassics Films launched French pic “The Hedgehog” at six domestic locations for a total estimated $39,913 and a good per-screen average of $6,652. Pic expands next week in San Francisco.

Domestic box office ticket sales:

1) The Help (Disney) — $20.5 million; 2,690 theaters

2) Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Fox) — $16.3 million; 3,471 theaters

3) Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (Weinstein Co.) — $12.0 million; 3,295 theaters

4) Conan the Barbarian (Lionsgate) — $10.0 million; 3,017 theaters

5) Fright Night (Disney) — $8.3 million; 3,114 theaters

6) The Smurfs (Sony) — $8.0 million; 3,057 theaters

7) Final Destination 5 (WB) — $7.7 million; 3,155 theaters

8) 30 Minutes or Less (Sony) — $6.3 million; 2,888 theaters

9) One Day (Focus) — $5.1 million; 1,721 theaters

10) Crazy Stupid Love (WB) — $5.0 million; 1,940 theaters

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