Hurricane Irene and Summer Doldrums Drop Box Office
By John Hamann
August 28, 2011
Wow. Throw a very large hurricane against the Eastern Seaboard, and the end of summer vacations across the rest of the continent, and we are left with one of the quietest moviegoing sessions in a very long time. The top 12 films at the box office haven't seen a total under $100 million since last February, when Hall Pass led the top ten with $13.5 million. This weekend's totals are much, much worse. For the second weekend in a row, The Help is on top, and three new releases surrender to epic failure.
Our number one film again this weekend is The Help, Disney's powerful drama chronicling race relations in Mississippi in the 1960s. Following a $26 million opening and a $20 million sophomore session when it climbed into top spot at the box office, The Help continued to shine this weekend, despite the weather on the East Coast. The Help earned $14.3 million this weekend, giving it a drop of 28%. It is impossible to say, but had the hurricane not hit on Saturday, how much would The Help have earned? An additional $3 million? $4 million? This film has clearly become a reason for Americans to go to the movies, much like The Blind Side did in 2009 and 2010.
The Blind Side had something going for it that The Help does not – the calendar configuration. The Sandra Bullock film about protecting those close to you was released in November of 2009, and rode the calendar towards Christmas, earning more than $10 million for seven consecutive weekends, the last being the weekend of January 1st - 3rd. It earned percentage increases over three of those weekends. With the storm this weekend, and Labor Day in the next frame, it could plausibly happen once for The Help, but it's no secret how slow Labor Day weekend is at the box office. The Blind Side finished with an amazing $256 million; it looks like The Help will finish with about half that, at around $125 million. Still, for a film that cost Disney only $25 million to make, The Help is a huge success, dominating the August box office, earning $96.6 million so far, and showing no signs of slowing.
Of the new openers this weekend, Zoe Saldana's Columbiana wasn't supposed to make much of an impact; however, when you throw a curveball called Irene at the box office, anything can happen. Columbiana, written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen of Taken fame, found a way to finish to second, pulling in a slightly better than expected $10.3 million. Released to only 2,614 venues, Columbiana had a venue average of $3,940. This one could have been an afterthought over a late August weekend, but because of the absence of straight action for adults at the box office - and of course the presence of the uber-lovely Saldana - this one broke through, if only slightly. Made for $40 million and released by Sony's Tri-Star, Columbiana will likely struggle in the week's ahead, but following international sales, will likely be profitable for the studio.