'American' wins holiday weekend box office

George Clooney has $16.4 mil weekend; 'Machete' is second

Exit popcorn-pic season, hello movies for grown-ups: Focus Features' George Clooney starrer "The American" topped the domestic box office with an estimated $16.4 million during the summer-ending Labor Day weekend.

The assassin-themed thriller rang up $19.5 million in its first six days, after unspooling midweek to get a jump on the four-day frame. Two other wide openers bore the same R rating as "American" but seemed more restricted in audience appeal.

Fox's crime actioner "Machete" topped daily rankings with $3.9 million in its first day of release on Friday, but the Robert Rodriguez-shepherded splatterfest quickly ceded its lead to the more broadly appealing Clooney pic and fetched $14 million in second place through Monday. Warners' romantic comedy "Going the Distance" -- starring Drew Barrymore and Justin Long -- proved the weakest of the weekend debutantes, wooing $8.6 million in fifth place during its first four days.

Elsewhere, Sony's heist actioner "Takers" took in $13.5 million in its sophomore session to finish third on the frame and pile cumulative coin to $40 million, while Lionsgate's horror pic "The Last Exorcism" conjured $8.8 million in fourth place for an 11-day cume of $33.6 million. Outside of the top rankings, Fox's special edition re-release of "Avatar" posted another $2.9 million in its second weekend to push record cume for the James Cameron epic to $758.2 million.

Labor Day is marked annually on the first Monday of September, both in the U.S. and Canada. Collectively, the top 10 pictures registered $93.2 million, or 3% less than top performers in last year's comparable holiday-stretched weekend, Rentrak said.

Domestic film distributors collected roughly $4.24 billion in summer box office since the season began on May 7, or almost 1% less than last year, while summer admissions were down almost 6% to an estimated 538 million. Hollywood marked a shorter box-office season this year, with 18 weekends compared to a year-earlier 19.

At first glance, the audience profiles of "American" and "Machete" weren't dramatically different, outside of an even older-skewing base for the former: "American" skewed 60% male with 88% of patrons aged 25 or older (and two-thirds of them over 35); "Machete" was 55% male, with 55% of its business coming from the 25 and up crowd. But Latino moviegoers represented a huge 60% of support for the Fox film, which would have struggled without an ethnic base notably similar to that for "Exorcism" a week earlier.

Helmed by onetime music-director Anton Corbijn, "American" co-stars Italian actress Violante Placido.

Older adult moviegoers made "American" their weekend "film of choice," said Jack Foley, distribution president at the Universal specialty-film unit.

"The strategic timing of the film's release at the holiday -- and beginning on Wednesday -- definitely generated more revenue for the film and now positions it well for a rich play out," Foley added.

Focus produced "American" in-house for an estimated $20 million.

Fox paid $8 million for distribution rights to "Machete," which was co-directed by Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis and stars Danny Trejo ("Predators"), Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan. The film's producers included Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Rick Schwartz, Aaron Kaufman and Iliana Nikolic.

"This was a cultural success," Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said. "The Latino audience really embraced the movie."

Keying on fan bases for Trejo and Rodriguez, the movie's "whole marketing thrust was a concerted effort to court the Latino market," Aronson added.

"Distance" was produced by Warners corporate-cousin New Line for an estimated $32 million.

"We're disappointed that it didn't open higher," Warners exec vp distribution Jeff Goldstein said.

"Distance" attracted audiences comprised 66% of females, with 23% of patrons under 25. Exit surveys showed patrons reacted positively to the film, Goldstein said.

"We're hopeful that as a result of the good word of mouth the audience will find the movie over the next couple of weeks," he added.

Among the weekend's limited bows, Music Box unspooled the crime sequel "Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1" in 31 theaters and grossed $93,190, or a mild $3,006 per venue.

And Sony Pictures Classics debuted "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" -- a Chinese remake of "Blood Simple" -- in four L.A. locations and one in New York to gross $36,332, or a hearty $7,266 per site.

Looking ahead to the first frame of the fall box office season, Sony's R-rated 3D scifi horror picture "Resident Evil: Afterlife" represents a lone wide opener during a weekend marked by the Rosh Hashana religious holiday.