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Box office preview: 'Apollo 18' hopes it can blast past 'The Help' during the extended Labor Day weekend

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Apollo 18 04
Dale Robinette

With the arrival of Labor Day, the end of the summer movie season is officially here. Yes, the season that brought us greats like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 and Bridesmaids as well as stinkers like Conan the Barbarian and Green Lantern is coming to a close. Still, there is one last box office crown up for grabs.

Three new wide releases — Apollo 18, Shark Night 3D, and The Debt — are entering theaters this weekend, all hoping to help end the summer with a bang. Unfortunately for them, The Help is proving to be an especially formidable box office force, and the Southern drama might top the chart for a third weekend in a row. Check out my predictions for the four-day weekend: 

1. The Help – $15 million

All signs point to the Kathryn Stockett adaptation nabbing a third weekend victory. Not only has strong word-of-mouth propelled the film past $100 million mark with ease, but because Hurricane Irene softened grosses last weekend, the drops should look especially tiny this time around. Over four days, The Help may earn a terrific $15 million.

2. Apollo 18 – $14 million

The Help‘s biggest competition will come from sci-fi thriller Apollo 18, which has a solid shot at topping the box office this weekend. Though Apollo 18 is supposedly composed of newly discovered footage from a failed lunar expedition, it still cost Weinstein/Dimension about $5 million to produce. That low negative cost will be the film’s biggest asset, and it only needs a decent debut to be considered a success. Fellow “found footage” film The Fourth Kind opened to $12.2 million in November 2009, while The Last Exorcism started off with $20.4 million in August 2010. With a wide release in 3,328 theaters, Apollo 18 may finish somewhere in between those two films and pull in $14 million.

3. Shark Night 3D – $10 million

Perhaps inspired by the very modest success of Piranha 3D, which earned $25 million in 2010, another ferocious aquatic animal is set to terrorize scantily clad beach goers in Shark Night 3D. Relativity is distributing the film, which cost Incentive Filmed Entertainment and Sierra / Affinity around $25 million to produce. Shark Night boasts a cast of attractive young people and a fun end-of-summer concept, and its PG-13 rating will allow the film to play to a broad audience — even if it likely disappoints gore-loving fanboys.

Whatever bump Shark Night might receive from this increased accessibility, though, could be offset by a negative 3-D effect. Audiences have cooled majorly on the 3-D illusion lately, and the film could suffer as a result. Playing in 2,806 theaters, approximately 2,500 of which will show the movie in 3-D, Shark Night may chomp up $10 million worth of tickets.

4. The Debt – $9 million

Focus Features’ Helen Mirren spy drama, which also stars Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Tom Wilkinson, opened to a solid $1 million on Wednesday in 1,826 theaters, and it should post some decent numbers over the holiday weekend. One year ago, another spy drama, George Clooney’s The American topped the Labor Day chart with $16.7 million, but that movie started with $1.7 million on its first Wednesday, so The Debt is likely headed for a smaller figure.

The Help will provide the main competition for the well-reviewed film, which should attract older moviegoers not interested in apes, astronauts, sharks, and Zoe Saldana.

5. Colombiana – $7.5 million

A four-day weekend always yields small declines at the box office, but since Hurricane Irene affected this comic book adaptation’s opening last weekend, Colombiana should enjoy an especially scant drop (at least for a frontloaded action movie!) this time around. A 25 percent decline would give the flick an additional $7.5 million.

Follow Grady on Twitter: @BoxOfficeJunkie