By John Young
Updated September 08, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Claudette Barius

The Help

  • Movie

After topping the box office for 24 straight days (and a likely 25th today), The Help will finally have to step aside for a new No. 1 movie: Steven Soderbergh’s viral thriller Contagion. Also debuting this weekend is the mixed martial arts drama Warrior, and two films that shouldn’t even crack the top five: the R-rated comedy Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star and the R-rated horror flick Creature.

The former movie, which stars Nick Swardson as a Midwestern nerd who heads to Hollywood to become a porn actor, was produced and co-written by Adam Sandler. But Swardson isn’t a big box-office draw, and the $10 million Sony release is only debuting in about 1,500 theaters, so count on an opening between $3 million and $4 million. Creature, about a half-human, half-alligator monster named Lockjaw (ManBearPig was apparently already booked), should fare even worse. Let’s say $1 million from 1,507 theaters.

Here are my box-office predictions for the top five:

1. Contagion: $23 million

The ensemble cast of Contagion — Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Winslet — has received 14 Oscar nominations, including 4 wins. So Steven Soderbergh’s PG-13 thriller about a deadly global virus has plenty of prestige to go around. Reviews have been generally favorable, too. The start of the NFL season may dampen Sunday’s figures, but Contagion should be able to attract a decent crowd of moviegoers, particularly those starving for some serious-minded entertainment. The film will also receive a minor bump from screening at 257 IMAX locations.

2. The Help: $11 million

The PG-13 drama slid a mere 23 percent and 27 percent during its second and third weekends, respectively. And then, remarkably, the film rose about half a percent last week. However, Contagion will steal some of The Help‘s adult audience, causing the Kathryn Stockett adaptation to return to its previous weekend declines. Still, a fifth-weekend drop of 25 percent is a true rarity, and by Sunday night, this $25 million movie should be approaching a cumulative gross of $140 million.

3. Warrior: $8 million

Despite strong reviews and some early Oscar buzz for actors Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte, this PG-13 sports drama from director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle) will likely struggle, at least initially. The subject matter — two brothers (Hardy and Joel Edgerton) fighting one another in a mixed martial arts tournament — could deter many female moviegoers. And Hardy and Edgerton aren’t exactly proven stars yet. But Warrior, which cost $25 million to produce and is opening in 1,869 theaters, has a decent shot at becoming a sleeper hit during the next few weeks. Its CinemaScore rating should be a good indicator as to how the film will perform down the road.

4. The Debt: $6 million

The spy thriller, starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, and the omnipresent Jessica Chastain, had earned a decent $16.4 million since debuting last Wednesday. The R-rated film is appealing almost entirely to adults — 95 percent of its audience was at least 25 years old, and a staggering 59 percent was over the age of 50. On the one hand, older moviegoers frequently wait a week or two before checking out a new picture, so that could bode well for The Debt. On the other hand, the John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) film garnered a merely okay “B” rating from CinemaScore graders. A drop of 40 percent seems reasonable.

This sci-fi action film has displayed incredible stamina — it slipped only 11 percent last week. But Apes will fall by a somewhat larger amount this weekend (I’m thinking 35 percent) as Contagion grabs the spotlight.

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The Help

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