Box Office Update: 'The Help' Braves Hurricane Irene to Stay at No. 1

DreamWorks Studios

Zoe Saldana's "Colombiana" comes in at No. 2, followed by "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" and "Our Idiot Brother," with Hurricane Irene taking a big bite out of the domestic box office as theaters close on the East Coast.

Hurricane or no hurricane, DreamWorks and Participant Media’s The Help once again bested a fresh round of films to place No. 1 at the box office Friday with a gross of $4.4 million, and new domestic total of $86.7 million.

However, domestic box office grosses are depressed across the board because of Hurricane Irene, and will only become more as the weekend unfolds and theaters close in Philadelphia and New York.

Distributors expect the overall box office to be down as much as 25 percent because of Irene, resulting in what might be the worst weekend of the year.

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Among the three new releases, the Luc-Besson action pic Colombiana, starring Zoe Saldana, did the best, grossing an estimated $3.8 million and receiving a pleasing A- CinemaScore. TriStar is distributing the film, which placed No. 2.

The Katie Holmes-Guy Pearce horror pic Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, produced by Guillermo Del Toro and distributed by FilmDistrict, followed with $3.6 million to come in No. 3. However, the film received a C- CinemaScore, which will impact word of mouth.

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The new R-rated ensemble comedy Our Idiot Brother, released by the Weinstein Co., came in No. 5, edged out by holdover Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which placed No. 4.

Idiot Brother grossed $2.4 million, and received an C+ CinemaScore. The comedy headlines Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer.

Apes grossed $2.6 million for a new domestic total of $142.2 million.

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By some estimates, Hollywood could forfeit as much as $30 million in box office revenues as a result of the storm, which is sparking theater closures all along the East Coast.

Normally, distribution executives are able to predict a film’s weekend gross based on Friday’s numbers, but Hurricane Irene is making that difficult.

The Help may gross $11 million to $12 million for the weekend, followed by Colombiana at perhaps $10 to $11 million. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark could earn $8 million; Our Idiot Brother, $6 to $7 million.

“It’s horrendous out there,” one distribution exec noted.