‘Help’ continues to surge at box office

LOS ANGELES — “The Help” continued to surge at the box office this weekend, but Hurricane Irene still did some serious damage to overall movie attendance.

Upon its debut in early August, the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s popular novel opened behind “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” but the film has since worked its way into the No. 1 spot at the box office for two consecutive weekends. In the film’s third weekend of release, the movie about civil rights in 1960s Mississippi grossed an additional $14.3 million, according to an estimate from distributor Walt Disney Studios. The film’s current total now stands at an impressive $96.6 million.

Meanwhile, overall box office was in need of some aid, as bad weather plagued the East Coast and about a thousand movie theaters closed their doors at some point during the weekend. Largely because of Irene, it was one of the slowest moviegoing weekends this year, with ticket sales down roughly 23 percent compared with the same weekend in 2010. Three new movies struggled to do business, with action flick “Colombiana” faring the best. The movie starring Zoe Saldana brought in a soft $10.3 million, while the horror film “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” could scare up only a lackluster $8.7 million. And there wasn’t much to laugh about for “Our Idiot Brother,” an R-rated comedy that collected a weak $6.6 million in ticket sales.

“Not only were there closures due to the weather, but people were just not leaving their homes,” said Rory Bruer, distribution president for Sony, which released “Colombiana.” “I’d say business was off upward of 20 percent.”

As of Saturday evening, AMC had closed all its theaters in New York, Virginia, Philadelphia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Clearview Cinemas shut down all of its 57 locations between New York and Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday, and Regal Cinemas also closed its doors in a number of cities. Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest theater chain, did not have any of its cinema hours affected by the hurricane.

Of the three new films that opened this weekend, “Colombiana” received the worst critical reviews, garnering a lowly 34 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, the movie, about an assassin attempting to avenge her parents’ murders, was given a better average grade by audiences than either of the weekend’s other two debuts — an A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Although action films traditionally attract a younger male audience, older females were the ones most interested in seeing “Colombiana.” The crowd that showed up to see the movie was 57 percent female, and 65 percent older than 25.

“I think that had something to do with Zoe Saldana playing a strong woman who really just kicks (butt) and takes names later, so to speak,” Bruer said of the female audience contingent.

The movie was financed by EuropaCorp. — the French movie studio co-founded by Luc Besson, who wrote and produced the movie — but is being distributed in the U.S. and Latin America by Sony.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” also played well with females, but younger ones, as well as African Americans and Latinos. That’s part of what ultimately hurt the film’s overall weekend gross, said Bob Berney, president of theatrical distribution for FilmDistrict, which released the movie in the U.S.

“Our movie definitely relied on large urban markets, and that was tough because many of the theaters in those areas closed after Friday,” said Berney, whose company acquired the film — made years ago for $25 million by the then-Walt Disney Co.-owned Miramax Films label — when the specialty film division was closed in 2009.

But even after the weather clears up, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” might have trouble luring in moviegoers. The film, produced and written by Guillermo del Toro about a young girl who learns terrifying creatures are living in her house, was given a dismal average grade of C-minus by those who saw it — which even Berney admitted was “not good.”

That was only slightly worse than the C-plus grade “Our Idiot Brother” received from audiences. The film appealed mostly to an older crowd, as 70 percent of the audience was over the age of 25.

“That older audience is less likely to venture out in a storm, whereas when you’re younger, that 18-to-24 crowd is feeling the invincibility of ‘Let’s go find out what’s happening.’ We got hurt by that,” said Erik Lomis, president of theatrical distribution and home entertainment for the Weinstein Co. — which distributed the film — attempting to explain the film’s poor performance.

The movie, in which Paul Rudd plays a slacker whose sisters try to help him right himself, was financed by the production company Big Beach Entertainment for $5 million. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it was later acquired by the Weinstein Co. and supermarket mogul Ron Burkle for about $6 million.



©2011 the Los Angeles Times

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Distributed byMCT Information Services

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‘Help’ continues to surge at box office