Box Office Report: Hurricane Irene Takes $25 Mil Bite Out of Box Office

 Carolyn Johns/Miramax

Hundreds of theater closures from North Carolina to Boston dealt the domestic box office a substantial blow, with lost ticket sales exceeding $25 million.

Overall revenues may not even reach $90 million for the frame, the second worst showing of the year after Super Bowl weekend ($87 million). All told, business was down as much as 25% from the same weekend last year.

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Notwithstanding the storm, DreamWorks and Participant Media’s late-summer hit The Help still managed to shine in its third weekend, placing No. 1 and handily beating a trio of new film in grossing $14.3 million for a new domestic total of $96.6 million.

Distributed by Disney, The Help probably wasn’t as hurt as other films because it is drawing most of its strength in the South, as well as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Theater closures in New York could explain why The Help was down more than 28% from last weekend, compared to a drop off of only 23% in its second outing.

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Distributors cautioned that Sunday estimates could change by Monday morning, since they have little experience dealing with so many theater closures. Rentrak estimates that as many as 1,000 theaters on the East Coast were impacted.

Theater traffic plummeted by 57% from Friday to Saturday in New York, the second busiest movie market next to Los Angeles; in Philadelphia, 45%, and in Washington, D.C., 37%. In York City—the country’s second busiest market next to Los Angeles—theaters remained closed on Sunday.

The Luc Besson-produced action pic Colombiana, starring Zoe Saldana, fared the best among the three new films, grossing an estimated $10.3 million to come in No. 2. Distributed by Sony/TriStar, the movie was fully financed by EuropaCorp and received an A-CinemaScore. Women made up a majority of the audience (57%), while 65% of those going to see thepic were over the age of 25.

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“If the numbers stick, it’s certainly in the realm of what we were hoping for,” Sony president of worldwide distribution Rory Bruer said.

Katie Holmes-Guy Pearce horror pic Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, produced and written by Guillermo del Toro, ended the weekend in a photo finish with 20th Century Fox’s holdover Rise of the Apes ($8.69 million vs. $8.65 million, respectively).

Peter Schlessel and Bob Berney’s FilmDistrict are distributing Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which received a glum C- CinemaScore. The pic played best to females under the age of 25, and made a strong showing among Hispanic and African-American audiences.

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Berney, who lives just north of New York City in Westchester County, said there was no business Saturday night even in theaters that remained open.

“For example, I went to Ridge Hill in Westchester County for the 7:30 shows on Saturday and though it was open, there were only about 25 brave people in the entire complex,” Berney said. "But all things considered, not a bad Saturday and ultimately the weekend total was good despite the hurricane, and despite the fact that our key large urban East Coast markets were really killed.”

The R-rated ensemble comedy Our Idiot Brother trailed the new the new films in its debut, grossing an estimated $6.6 million. Acquired by the Weinstein Co. at Sundance earlier this year, Idiot Brother received an C+ CinemaScore. The comedy headlines Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer.

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Weinstein president of distribution Erik Lomis said Idiot Brother may have been hurt more than other new films, because it played to an older, upscale audience.

“Exit polls Friday night showed that our strongest area was New York City, and we basically got shut down,” Lomis said. “Hopefully we will come back next week.”

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The Weinstein Co.'s financial exposure is minimized, since it covered the cost of aquiring the film by selling off rights in a handful of key markets.

Several holdover films took big hits in their second weekend--in part due to Irene--including the Weinstein Co./Dimension Films' Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, which fell 51% in its second weekend to an estimated $5.7 million for a cume of $21.7 million in its first 10 days.

Lionsgate and NuImage/Millennium Films' big-budget Conan the Barbarian tumbled 69% in its second outing to an estimated $3.1 million for a cume of only $16.6 million in its first 10 days. Conan placed No. 8, followed by DreamWorks' vampire pic Fright Night, which fell 63% in its second frame to an estimated $3 million fro a cume of $14.2 million.

Independent films launching in limited runs in New York and Los Angeles were waylaid by the storm. Vera Farmiga's Higher Ground opened to an estimated $22,905 from three locations for a location average of $7,635. French-Iranian film Circumstance opened to an estimated $43,500 from seven locations for a theater average of $6,214.

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