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Box office report: 'The Help' adds $19M on Labor Day weekend; 'The Debt' trumps 'Apollo 18' and 'Shark Night 3D'

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It may have opened in second place, but for the past 21 days, The Help has been the number one film at the U.S. box office.

In that time, ten new releases have opened in theaters, and none of them, not even for one day, have been able to outgross the Kathryn Stockett adaptation. That is a testament not only to the strong word-of-mouth The Help has been enjoying (it received an “A+” CinemaScore grade), but also to audience’s general disinterest in the majority of August’s poorly-reviewed offerings.

Over the four-day Labor Day frame (for you people debating in the comments, four-day means Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday), The Help grossed an estimated $19 million, lifting its total to $123.6 million. The weekend victory makes The Help the first film since Inception to top the chart for three straight weekends, though, to be clear, The Help is earning nowhere near the numbers Inception did. Sure, a $123.4 million running total is strong, but Inception had earned more than that in nine days, and it finished with $292.6 million—basically, there have been much bigger numbers at the box office. What makes The Help‘s run so impressive is the fact that it opened with “just” $26 million. Most films only gross about three times their opening weekend during their entire theatrical run. For example, Thor opened with $65.7 million and it finished with a $181 million total. That’s a 2.75 multiplier (multiplier = total / opening). The Help looks like it will finish somewhere in the neighborhood of $160 million, which would give it an impressive 6+ multiplier.

In second place, Focus Features’ The Debt earned $12.2 million ($9.7 million over the three-day weekend), giving it a $14.1 million total since its Wednesday release. The spy thriller, which stars Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington, earned lower numbers than Shark Night 3D and Apollo 18 on Friday, but thanks to an older audience (95 percent were 25 or older, and 59 percent were at least 50) that didn’t feel the need to rush out to the theater on opening night, The Debt easily climbed past the other two new releases over the rest of the weekend. Audiences gave the well-reviewed film an alright “B” CinemaScore grade. Thanks to its low theater count of 1,826 locations, The Debt turned out a sturdy $6,671 per theater average, which is particularly impressive given the direct competition from The Help.

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Apollo 18 may have blasted off all the way to the moon, but it could only rocket its way into third place this weekend. The “found footage” flick, made by Weinstein/Dimension for about $5 million, earned $10.7 million over the four-day weekend ($8.7 million over three days).  With a wretched “D” CinemaScore grade from audiences and a weak $3,215 per theater average, Apollo 18 is not likely to stick around at the box office for long, but thanks to its low negative costs, it won’t create a financial crater for the studio.

Shark Night 3D swam into fourth place with $10.3 million ($8.4 million over three days). The picture was produced for about $25 million by Incentive Filmed Entertainment and Sierra / Affinity, but it is being distributed domestically by Relativity Media. Last year, the similarly themed Piranha 3D chomped up $10.1 million over three days, and that earned just $25 million overall. Shark Night could barely beat that debut with an extra weekend day, and it will likely finish with about $20 million. Audiences gave the film a weak “C” CinemaScore grade, as many viewers were frustrated that Shark Night 3D was made to look like an over-the-top B-movie, yet it carried a gore-less PG-13 rating. According to the distributor, 57 percent of the audience was under the age of 25, while a huge 56 percent of the audience was Hispanic.

Notably, 86 percent of Shark Night‘s opening weekend gross came from 3D screens (approximately 2500 out of its 2,806 theaters showed the film in 3D), marking another mixed result for the format. On the one hand, an 86 percent 3D ratio is strong, and when coupled with Final Destination 5, which earned 76 percent of its opening weekend gross from 3D, these performances prove that there is still an appetite for the illusion in the horror genre. Still, we must consider two things. First off, Shark Night did not perform especially well this weekend, and Final Destination 5 opened with $18 million, a figure way below 2009’s The Final Destination, which started with $27.4 million—these are far from major victories for 3D. Second, how much of Shark Night‘s 86 percent ratio had to do with actual audience appetite for 3D versus simple availability issues? After all, 89 percent of Shark Night‘s theaters were showing the film in 3D, yet the film couldn’t achieve that ratio in its earnings.

August’s biggest box office star, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, clung onto fifth place with $10.3 million ($7.8 million over three days), giving the film $162.5 total after five weekends. In sixth, Zoe Saldana feature Colombiana found $9.4 million over the Friday-to-Monday period, pushing the film a slightly better-than expected $24 million after ten days.

1. The Help – $19.0 mil  ($123.4 mil total)

2. The Debt – $12.2 mil  ($14.1 mil)

3. Apollo 18 – $10.7 mil  ($10.7 mil)

4. Shark Night 3D – $10.3 mil  ($10.3 mil)

5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – $10.3 mil  ($162.5 mil)

6. Colombiana – $9.4 mil  ($24.0 mil)

7. Our Idiot Brother – $7.0 mil  ($17.3 mil)

8. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D – $6.6 mil  ($31.0 mil)

9. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – $6.1 mil  ($17.6 mil)

10. The Smurfs – $5.6 mil  ($133.6 mil)

Follow Grady on Twitter: @BoxOfficeJunkie