By John Young
Updated August 28, 2011 at 07:10 PM EDT
  • Movie

In what may be the lowest grossing weekend of the year, The Help finished in first place for the second week in a row with $14.3 million, according to studio estimates. The PG-13 drama dropped only 28 percent — a particularly impressive hold considering that this weekend also marked the debut of Hurricane Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical storm as it made its way through New York City and New England. The Help, which cost $25 million to produce and has so far earned $96.6 million, should cross the $100 million mark by Wednesday.

But while The Help managed to withstand Mother Nature, the overall market took a beating. According to the box office reporting service Rentrak, as many as 1,000 theaters closed at some point during the weekend due to Irene. AMC Theatres, for instance, shut down all of its theaters in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.

“Our key large urban East Coast markets were really killed and many theaters closed or were dead even if they remained open,” said FilmDistrict exec Bob Berney in a statement, whose studio released the horror flick Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. “The E-Walk on 42nd Street in Manhattan gross was $20,800 on Friday and $0 on Saturday.” The weekend box office was down an estimated 23 percent from last year, and is running neck and neck with Super Bowl weekend (Feb. 4-6) as the slowest of the year. (It’s too early to say which weekend will claim the dubious title.)

The new action movie Colombiana took second place with $10.3 million. Starring Avatar‘s Zoe Saldana as a revenge-seeking assassin, the PG-13 film skewed female (57 percent of the audience) and older (65 percent was 25 and up). Colombiana fell a bit short of such recent assassin pictures as Hanna ($12.4 million), The Mechanic ($11.4 million), and Machete ($11.4 million). But audiences enjoyed the TriStar release, with CinemaScore moviegoers handing the film a solid “A-” grade.

That wasn’t the case for FilmDistrict’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which debuted in third place with $8.7 million but received a harsh “C-” rating from CinemaScore participants. At least the movie opened stronger than last week’s horror-remake clunker Fright Night ($7.7 million). Dark, a remake of the 1973 made-for-TV film of the same name, was co-written and produced by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and starred Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce. According to CinemaScore, the R-rated movie attracted a crowd that was 52 percent under the age of 25.

The week’s third new release, the R-rated comedy Our Idiot Brother, mustered only $6.6 million — enough for fifth place. Luckily the film, which stars Paul Rudd as the naive brother of Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer, wasn’t an expensive undertaking. Brother cost $5 million to produce, and the Weinstein Company, which picked up the movie at Sundance for $6 million, has already covered its acquisition costs through foreign-market presales. According to the studio, 70 percent of the film’s audience was at least 25 years old. And CinemaScore graders weren’t too amused, giving Brother a tepid “C+” rating.

Among holdovers, Rise of the Planet of the Apes continued its admirably slow decline, falling a mild 46 percent for $8.7 million and pushing its cumulative tally to $148.5 million. It practically tied Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark for third place — we’ll know which movie finished on top by Monday. Check back next weekend for even more horror fare with Apollo 18 and Shark Night 3D, plus the long-delayed thriller remake The Debt, which opens on Wednesday.

1. The Help — $14.3 mil

2. Colombiana — $10.3 mil

3. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark — $8.69 mil

4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes — $8.65 mil

5. Our Idiot Brother — $6.6 mil

The Help

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Tate Taylor