The downtrodden housemaids of 'The Help' cleaned up at the box office. In its second weekend, the film swept away all competition, including last week's winner, 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes,' and four new wide releases - 'Spy Kids: All the Time in the World,' 'Conan the Barbarian,' 'Fright Night' and 'One Day.'
After last weekend's unexpectedly strong opening, 'The Help' added 156 screens this weekend (for a total of 2,690). As a result, the period dramedy drew an estimated $20.5 million, just 21 percent off last weekend's total. Despite the controversy the film has engendered over its depiction of a fraught moment in the Civil Rights era, 'The Help' continues to benefit from excellent word-of-mouth. It's been beating 'Apes' all week, so its victory this weekend was no surprise. In 12 days of release, it's earned $71.8 million, and it should remain a box-office stalwart for the rest of the summer.
'Apes,' too, managed to hold off all newcomers. After two weeks on top, it slipped to second place with an estimated $16.3 million. That's a 41 percent decline from a week ago, which is modest for a movie in its third weekend that's facing competition from at least two new movies for the same audience. To date, 'Apes' has earned $133.7 million.
With four new movies battling for third place, the rest of the weekend race was anybody's guess. The top draw among the newcomers was 'Spy Kids: All the Time in the World,' which opened at No. 3 with an estimated $12.0 million. That's below the predictions, which ran to the upper end of the $13-$18 million range, and well below the $33.4 million that the last installment debuted with in 2003. Of course, that was eight years ago; 3D isn't the novelty it was then, and the audience for the first three movies has long since outgrown the franchise. The only thing this reboot had as selling points to a new generation of kids was its scratch-and-sniff card "Aroma-Scope" gimmick and the lack of other fare targeted at young children, save for the month-old 'The Smurfs.'
The remake of 'Conan the Barbarian' was many pundits' pick for the top new movie of the week, with a predicted take of around $17 million. It was a well-known title; relatively unknown lead Jason Momoa had become semi-famous by playing a similar role on HBO's spring series 'Game of Thrones' and the film had about a year's worth of fanboy hype behind it. But 3D fatigue has set in, and reviews and word-of-mouth were middling. 'Conan' opened in fourth place, pillaging only an estimated $10.0 million from the pockets of moviegoers.
Opening in fifth place was another '80s remake, 'Fright Night,' which had been expected to open around $15 million. Instead, it did just over half that, with an estimated $8.3 million. Maybe that shouldn't have been a surprise. The 1985 original was a cult favorite at best. Colin Farrell is not a box office draw. There was still-strong horror competition from Final Destination 5.' And the 'Fright Night' marketing tried to play it both ways, selling the film as a tongue-in-cheek take on the vampire genre while insisting that Farrell's bloodsucker was a truly terrifying monster who would eat for breakfast the sensitive 'Twilight'-style vamps popular in movies and TV lately. Decent reviews and word-of-mouth weren't enough to overcome all that.
The week's final new release, romantic tearjerker 'One Day,' opened way down in ninth place with an estimated $5.1 million. Early predictions had guessed about $6 million, since the film was opening on just 1,719 screens, and since it was up against 'The Help' for the same audience of young women. The presence in the lead role of Anne Hathaway (who promoted the film on every talk show known to man last week) and the pre-sold literary title (screenwriter David Nicholls adapted his own bestselling novel) didn't do much to sway moviegoers.
The box office for 2011 crossed the $7 billion mark this weekend, but it's still 3.8 percent behind last year, though the gap is a hair smaller than it was last week. Box office for the weekend was about $1.6 million behind the same weekend last year, which saw 'The Expendables' hold onto the top slot against newcomers 'Vampires Suck' and 'Lottery Ticket.'
The full top 10:
1. 'The Help,' $20.5 million (2,690 screens), $71.8 million total
2. 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes,' $16.3 million (3,471), $133.8 million
3. 'Spy Kids: All the Time in the World,' $12.0 million (3,295), new release
4. 'Conan the Barbarian,' $10.0 million (3,015), new release
5. 'Fright Night,' $8.3 million (3,114), new release
6. 'The Smurfs,' $8.0 million (3,057), $117.7 million
7. 'Final Destination 5,' $7.7 million, (3,155), $32.3 million
8. '30 Minutes or Less,' $6.3 million, (2,888), $25.8 million
9. 'One Day,' $5.1 million (1,719), new release
8. 'Crazy, Stupid, Love,' $5.0 million (1,940), $64.4million
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.
Photo credits: DreamWorks ('The Help'), Focus Features ('One Day')