Box Office Report: 'The Help' and 'The Debt' to Top Labor Day Chart

9:10 AM PST 09/03/2011 by Pamela McClintock

Defying the odds, the pair of adult dramas are drawing more interest than "Apollo 18" and "Shark Night 3D."

In a Labor Day upset, adult-skewing dramas The Help and new entry The Debt are looking to dominate the long holiday weekend, beating out horror-thrillers Apollo 18 and Shark Night 3D.

There’s no slowing down DreamWorks and Participant Media’s The Help, which is poised to become the first film this year to come in No. 1 for three consecutive weekends. The pic easily won the Friday race, grossing an estimated $3.6 million and putting the late-summer box office hit on course to earn a better-than-expected $17 million for the four-day weekend.
The Help, with a cume of $108 million through Friday, will hit $120 million by Monday.

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The Debt, from Focus Features and Miramax, also is overperforming. Opening on Wednesday, the Helen Mirren thriller grossed an estimated $2.6 million on Friday for a stellar three-day total of $4.5 million—ahead of the $4 million grossed by The Constant Gardener, another Focus Labor Day release, in its first three days. (Focus has pioneered using the summer-end holiday for adult fare.)

The Debt now has a strong shot at placing an unexpected No. 2 for the four-day weekend with a gross of $12 million—even though it is playing in far fewer theaters than its competitors, or 1,826 locations. That puts its six-day debut at roughly $14 million, outapacing predictions. Constant Gardener, which turned into a sleeper hit, earned $12 million in its first six days.

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Found-footage sci fi thriller Apollo 18, from the Weinstein Co., and Shark Night, distributed by Relativity, were in a dead heat on Friday, each grossing an estimated $2.8 million from 3,328 theaters and 2,086 theaters, respectively. Neither film seemed to particularly please audiences: Apollo 18 received a dismal D CinemaScore, while Shark Night drew a C.

While Shark Night and Apollo 18 paced slightly ahead of The Debt of Friday, they are predicted to begin falling behind, since adult-themed films pick up traffic on Saturday.

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Shark Night and Apollo 18 are expected to come in around $10 million, if not lower, for the four days. Heading into the weekend, tracking showed Apollo 18 grossing $11 million to $14 million for the four-day weekend, while Shark Night—which didn’t show the same level of heat as Apollo 18--was expected to earn $7 million to $8 million.

Apollo 18 only cost $5 million to produce, so the Weinstein Co. isn’t financially at risk; however, it’s the third weekend in a row that the company has seen one of its film underperform.

As expected, Apollo 18-- produced by Timur Bekmambetov and Ron Schmidt—appealed heavily to males, who made up 59% of the audience, while 64% of those buying tickets were over the age of 25.

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Apollo 18 is impressive for coming together in less than a year; Dimension and Bekmambetov introduced the project to foreign buyers at last November’s American Film Market.

Director David EllisShark Night, fully financed and produced by Incentive Filmed Entertainment and Sierra/Affinity, is relying on younger moviegoers. Exit polling showed that 57% of Friday night’s audience was under the age of 25, while 53% of the audience was male.

Relativity, which is releasing Shark Night, put up all marketing costs, while Sierra/Affinity covered much of the pic’s production budget (just under $30 million after tax rebates) through foreign presales. The movie begins its international rollout this weekend when opening in Russia.
 

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